Saturday, April 27, 2002

Keep mares away from caterpillars, farmers told

Link to foal loss suspected, but not clear

By Steve Bailey
The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — University of Kentucky researchers issued a third equine-management advisory Friday, this time focusing on the Eastern tent caterpillar.

        Scientists still do not know what caused hundreds of foals to die and thousands of early-term pregnancies to be terminated on central Kentucky horse farms last year, costing the state's billion-dollar horse industry nearly $350 million.

This was a common scene last year as hundreds of foals died of a mysterious ailment.
        They believe, however, that stark weather changes during this exact time frame may have played a role in the development of the mysterious illness, dubbed Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome.

        Two advisories were issued earlier this week warning of frost and near-freezing temperatures, which could damage maturing pasture grasses and foster the creation of toxins.

        Both advisories, issued Monday and Thursday, suggested that horse farmers keep their pregnant mares out of pastures overnight and that the fields be mowed before turning the mares out in the afternoon.

        Eastern tent caterpillars also have been considered a primary risk factor for the illness, though their exact correlation to the illness has not been conclusively proven.

        Scientists originally thought the caterpillars, which feed on cyanide-laced wild cherry tree leaves, somehow transmitted the cyanide to the pregnant mares through their droppings. They have since backed off from that theory and are looking at other causal agents, such as mycotoxins, alkaloids associated with tall fescue, minerals, yeasts and molds.

        The latest advisory said pregnant mares should not be exposed to large numbers of the caterpillars.

        The advisory says the caterpillars are beginning to leave trees in preparation for their change into moths.

        They will crawl from the trees and spin silken cocoons under ledges and in crevices, University of Kentucky entomologist Lee Townsend said. This cycle should last for about two weeks.

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