Every year Mainers wait through the long winter months for the ground to thaw, for the fruit trees to flower, for the chance to walk outside without five layers of protective clothing.

But those puddles of melted ice harbor insect larvae ready to mature into ruthless feeders of freshly bared arms and legs, of planted vegetables and flowers. Those pink apple blossoms soon will feed millions of ravenous eastern tent caterpillars ready to explode out of their sticky, white nests.

State entomologist Dave Struble has noticed that tent caterpillars are more prevalent this spring than usual. The exceptionally cold winter seemed to have little impact on them, said Struble of the Maine Forest Service.

“They go in cycles,” Struble said. “Right now, they’re in an up cycle. They’ve adapted to where they are, which is where they belong. The tent caterpillars are native to the state.”

The extra frigid winter, however, did seem to curtail the gypsy moth, Struble said. The eggs of this pest, which once created a widespread nuisance throughout Maine and triggered state efforts to spray insecticides, don’t survive temperatures of 25 degrees below zero, Struble said.

“We’re hoping that a few of the pests will be lower in number this year,” said Clay Kirby, insect diagnostician with the University of Maine’s cooperative extension in Orono. “But the snow cover actually has more to do with insect survival than the temperatures. Around the state, I noticed variable snow cover, so it’s hard to say.”

Gardeners can be on the lookout for lily leaf beetles and cutworms right now, Kirby said. These creatures consume leaves until all that remains is a lacy skeleton of veins.

Kirby and Struble both recommended that people using pesticides strictly adhere to instructions on the labels. Kirby’s personal method is hand-picking bugs and drowning them in a coffee can about a third full of soapy water.

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