Viridian Note 00245: Weather Poisons Horses

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: climate change, caterpillars, cyanide, horse
feeding, livestock death, Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome

Attention Conservation Notice: A gruesome anecdote about a particularly off-the-wall climate-related mishap.

Entries in the Viridian Hot Rod Contest:

From:^^^** (Ben Davis)

This contest ends July 5, 02001.

Caterpillar kills Kentucky horses^* (Allen Varney)

Allen Varney remarks: "A Wexelblat disaster has hit Kentucky horse-breeders. Weird weather promotes unusually high cyanide concentrations in black cherry leaves. Caterpillars eat the leaves. Horses eat caterpillar feces (yuck!) and miscarry. God only knows what the horseflesh industry does with aborted horse fetuses; let's hope they don't grind them up for livestock feed."

Source: Reuters, May 25, 02001

"Caterpillar Blamed for Kentucky Horse Deaths

"LEXINGTON, Ky. (Reuters) == The illness that caused hundreds of Kentucky mares to miscarry or deliver stillborn foals has been traced to caterpillars which had eaten cherry tree leaves tainted with naturally occurring cyanide, officials said on Friday.

    "Unusually high levels of the poison in populous black cherry trees was somehow transferred to the mares == possibly through feces from Eastern tent caterpillars in bluegrass pastures == and killed the unborn horses in the womb.

    "Roughly one out of 20 foals due to be born this spring died, and next year's foal crop may be cut sharply, causing at least $225 million in lost foal sales and stud fees in Kentucky's $1 billion annual horse industry. (((Whoa!)))

    "'Mare reproductive loss syndrome,' the name given to the illness that peaked earlier this month, has subsided recently, veterinarians said.

    "Breeders had taken desperate measures such as delivering foals early and keeping mares out of their famed bluegrass pastures. Originally, scientists had thought toxin-producing molds had attacked pastures, which in turn had caused the reproductive problem in the mares. (((Toxic, moldy bluegrass pastures would have been even scarier.)))

    "But scientists told breeders on Thursday that the cause of the foal deaths was likely the caterpillar and the cyanide-producing trees, and that the problem was safely past.

    "In future, horse breeders could take precautions when caterpillar populations are heavy, such as restricting grazing, University of Kentucky Agriculture Department spokesman Haven Miller said in a telephone interview.

(((Here comes the story's actual lede paragraph.)))

    "'The unusual weather pattern could have caused the cyanide levels in the trees to be higher,' Miller said. 'We had a similar problem in 1980-81,' when many unexplained horse deaths occurred.

    "This spring featured similarly warm, dry weather followed by a sudden frost, which not only damaged pastures but may have increased the poison content in the trees. Breeders have known about the cyanide content in cherry trees, and some chop them down." (((So now you are horseless and cherryless, but at least you don't have to face up to your loss of natural weather.)))

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