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[nafex] Off-topic, sort of: tent caterpillars & equine abortions
Over in the central part of KY - in the Bluegrass area, around Lexington,
they've been experiencing an exponential increase in the number of late
term abortions/stillbirths in mares, as well as a marked increase in early
embryonic mortality. Same thing's been noted in Ohio and West Virginia,
but it didn't make the press like it did around Lexington, which touts
itself as the 'Horse Capitol of the World".
Things started happening a week or two prior to the Kentucky Derby, and
during the course of the investigation, the spokespersons at the Univ. of
KY have been throwing out a number of possible(though sometimes not all
that plausible) causes, ranging from endophytic fungi in the grass, nitrate
fertilization of pastures last fall, mold growth/mycotoxin production in
forage damaged by our early April freeze.
Now, they've settled in on tent caterpillars.
They were very prominent this spring, and as we all know, wild cherry
(P.serotina in this area) is their preferred host plant. The latest 'trial
balloon' the UK-Gluck folks have thrown out is that the tent caterpillars
ate the cherry leaves, concentrated the cyanide/cyanogenic compounds in
their feces & body parts, and then the mares became poisoned by
consuming/inhaling caterpillar feces or the caterpillars themselves. This
theory suggests that the mares themselves were not affected, but that
cyanide levels were high enough to cause fetal/embryonic death.
I realize that the folks at UK were under immense pressure from the entire
horse industry, but personally, I don't buy it, not for one
minute. They're gonna have to show me some pretty convincing evidence that
there's any significant amount of HCN or any other cyanogenic compound in
TC feces, and that these mares were gobbling up enough of it to induce
abortion - and prove to me that there's a significant level of cyanide in
Some of these cases occurred on farms where there were NO cherry trees, and
while I've not spent a tremendous time in the horse country around
Lexington, I would suspect that most cherries would have long ago been
removed from the properties, due to the danger inherent in livestock
consuming wilted leaves if/when trees blew over, or big limbs were broken out.
Cherry leaves are only a problem in the wilted state - I've seen cattle &
horses consume fresh green leaves straight off the tree, and fallen, yellow
leaves off the ground, with no problem whatsoever.
Well, anyway, if you'd care to look at any of the stuff pertaining to this
theory, look here for several linked stories.
Louis L. "Lucky" Pittman, Jr., DVM
Veterinary Pathologist/Asst. Prof.
Murray St. Univ.-Breathitt Veterinary Ctr.
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