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Thousands inch down Fountain Square Avenue

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The caterpillars that have invaded the homes and properties along South Manteca Road, near Legacy Street, have been identified as Armyworms, voracious insects that love to munch on greenery.

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin

POSTED May 1, 2013 2:16 a.m.

Thousands of unwanted guests have forced Lucy and Bryan Cook to cancel their Cinco de Mayo party.

“They’re everywhere – crawling on the walls, in my pool and in the bushes,” said Lucy Cook, standing in her well-manicured backyard.

“I can’t have people come back here.”

Around the corner, Sal Herrera had his weekend with his grandchildren interrupted by an unscheduled parade that inched along slowly.

 “They came right through here,” Herrera said, standing at the corner of Tannehill Drive and Fountain Square Avenue. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

On a 10-acre plot of land across South Manteca Road, where the soil is soft and fertile, Jan and Lily Kizlin have spent the last four days fighting the same invasion.

So far, it’s been a losing battle.

“Oh, there’s one,” said Jan, a retired Manteca Unified School District teacher, fingering through a bush in front of his country home.

“There’s another … right there at your feet.”

The intruder: Caterpillars, believed to be Armyworms, whose unusual migration through this South Manteca neighborhood has dominated the lives of its residents for nearly a week now.

They’ve come by the thousands, marching west along fence lines, dirt access roads and surface streets during the cooler morning hours. The caterpillars, which range in size and color and feature a bulbous orange head and horned tail, have been spotted scaling exterior walls, loitering in gardens, and collecting in the drains and shallow ends of neighborhood pools.

“I have talked with people have seen them on Ivory Lace, Fragrance Court, Fountain Square, Tannehill and more,” Woodward resident Lori Mackey wrote in an e-mail to The Bulletin. “I am assuming they are all over the development.  … They have just come out of nowhere by the truckload.”

Bryan Cook isn’t ready to declare war, but his wife is. By Tuesday morning, the migration had thinned out considerably.

“It’s not an infestation. It’s a migration,” Bryan Cook said. “There are different varieties and different colors, and they range in size – from half an inch to four-inches long.

“They haven’t taken up residence. It only seems like they’ve taken up residence because we’ve had them for a week now.

“They’re not poisonous or dangerous to pets or humans. It would be pointless to corral each one all day long,” he later added. “What are you going to do? It’s not like they’re cockroaches.”

But they have become an annoyance for his wife and many of the residents in this Woodward Community Park neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Lucy Cook stalked her backyard with a wooden stick and bucket, her Cinco de Mayo party plans dashed by these green-and-black intruders. 

Mackey fished larvae out of her pool and Herrera watched thousands of them inch down Fountain Square Avenue with his grandchildren.

Tom Reed of the San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office said the caterpillars are voracious insects that will chew up a garden.

Eventually, they will go retire to an above-ground cocoon, Reed said, and re-emerge a beautiful yellowish butterfly.

However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“They’re just making a mess, pooping and messing up the pool,” Lucy Cook said. “We’ve taken buckets and buckets out of there. It’s just nasty.”

Residents that phoned the office of the Agricultural Commissioner were told to let nature take its course. The Cooks contacted the agricultural offices in Stockton and Ripon.

“From time to time, there are flare-ups of certain insects,” said Reed, who collected samples from the neighborhood Tuesday. “There have been years that crickets, tarantulas and things like that blow up in a geographical area.”

The Armyworms seemingly streamed into the decade-old development from a nearby almond orchard, searching out a new food source. They get their name from the relentless pursuit; they march with only one mission: Food.

The Kizlins spent Tuesday morning hunting the non-poisonous species, which have traveled across South Manteca Road and collected in the open dirt and vegetation that frame their home.

The Kizlins recently uprooted their almond trees – “Right now, this is our dust tunnel,” Lily quipped, hunting caterpillar with scissors and tall rubber boots – and promise to re-plant soon.

“We’ve had a lot of weird bugs and plants over the years,” said Jan Kizlin, whose property is bookended by another almond orchard and a strawberry patch.

“But this is kind of creepy and kind of weird,” interjected his wife.

Reed said residents can safeguard their gardens and bushes with worm-specific products purchased from a garden center or nursery.


“The best thing might be to pay a kid a nickel a worm and then flush them,” Reed added.

That could prove costly.

“We’ve lived here 11 years in this house and never seen anything like this,” Bryan Cook said. “We’ve seen caterpillars before … maybe 20 in the past, but on this scale? For seven days? I’m sure a million have passed by our house.”

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