Study Shows Caterpillars Cause Fetal Loss in Pigs; Problem Similar to MRLS

Eastern tent caterpillars (ETC) caused fetal loss in domestic pigs based on a recent study, according to a press release issued Friday by the University of Kentucky. The experiment demonstrated for the first time that ETC could cause abortion in an animal other than the horse in a manner consistent with mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS). It also showed that the pig might be a useful model for studying the disease.

The project was the fourth in a series studies that are designed to identify the factor or agent responsible for fetal losses due to MRLS. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is overseeing the research.

Eastern Tent Caterpillars (ETC) were collected in Central Kentucky in the spring of 2003 and stored at -80ÂșC until used. Gilts in mid-gestation were paired so that one gilt from each pair was fed a normal ration and the second gilt of each pair received ETC mixed into the normal ration. Two of five gilts fed ETC aborted their entire litters while none of the five control gilts aborted.

The two ETC-fed gilts that aborted, along with their non-treated pairs, were euthanatized and necropsied 1-3 days after the abortions occurred. The remaining gilts were euthanatized and necropsied 29 days after the onset of the trial. Streptococci bacteria were isolated from fetuses of all gilts fed ETC, whether or not they aborted, and from fetuses of one control gilt. Bacteria isolated from the control fetuses were less numerous and of a different strain than those isolated from fetuses of ETC-treated gilts.

Of particular interest was the identification of what appear to be caterpillar setae (hairs) in the alimentary tract of gilts fed ETC but not of control gilts. The researchers were not sure if the hairs contributed to the abortions in the two treated gilts or to the presence of bacteria in fetuses of the treated gilts.