Caterpillar Season

Despite the very dry conditions, I have had a good many calls about caterpillars. Caterpillars are of course the larva of butterflies and moths. Actually, moth species outnumber butterfly species 11 to 1. There are approximately 4,700 species of moths and less than 500 species of butterflies in Texas; each of these was at one time a caterpillar. Some of these caterpillars are harmless, but many are quite harmful to our crops, landscapes, and yard grass.

A few of the more common destructive caterpillars in our area include the armyworm, in which there are many types. The fall armyworm is usually most destructive to pastures, hay meadows, and sweet corn. Cutworms are another destructive caterpillar that can really work over a vegetable garden. They will cut seedling vegetables off at or near the soil surface. Cutworms are typically 1 ½” long, and pale to dirty brown in color. The Squash Vine Borer can wipe out a row of squash in a day or two. They will also feed on pumpkins, muskmelons, and cucumbers. The tomato hornworm is an interesting looking caterpillar with its anal horn. Hornworms can eat lots of foliage on your tomatoes, but populations are usually small. The tomato pinworm is another caterpillar that is capable of causing considerable damage to your tomato crop. These caterpillars will bore into the tomato at any stage of ripeness.

There are also several caterpillars that will defoliate your trees. Every year we see areas of the county that are hit by the Oak Leaf Roller in the spring. These caterpillars feed on the early spring growth and may eat all the new foliage on oaks and other trees. Tent caterpillars can also defoliate your yard trees. They prefer fruit or nut trees, but will attack oaks and other tree species as well. They, form a tent in the branches of trees. The walnut caterpillar feeds on pecans, hickory, and walnut trees. While outbreaks are uncommon, when they do occur, they can defoliate trees almost overnight.

A couple of the stinging caterpillars I have noticed increased numbers in the last two-years are the Buck Moth Caterpillar, Lo Moth Caterpillar, and the Asp. These 3 caterpillars have urticating hairs or spines that are connected to a poison gland. When something, such as an arm, brushes against the hairs, the hairs stick in the skin, injecting venom and sometimes causing a rash. Usually, applying ice will reduce any swelling and lessen pain. While these bad 3 have hairs there are some hairy caterpillar species that are harmless an example is the Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar of which is common in the county. Although most are harmless and I have warned folks in the past, if stung by the wrong caterpillar, the person experiencing the sting may begin to exhibit caterpillar like tendencies.

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