Winter Moth Caterpillars… They’re BAAACK!

Winter moth caterpillar. (Mas. Audubon)

Winter moth caterpillar. (Mass. Audubon)


If you were one of the many Cape Codders who took advantage of one of the first sunny afternoons to step outside and enjoy the first sampling of Spring weather you may have noticed something in the air… And it wasn’t just the pollen.

They are back: those tendrils of silk dangling from the branches above you. You feel something tickling on your arm… or your head… You try to brush it away and realize it is a little inch worm-like green caterpillar. After finishing your own special rendition of the heebie-jeebies dance (which you hope the neighbors didn’t see), you scan the yard and the air in front of you.

The sun catches a few more strands of silk, and a few more and then you see the little worms swinging in the breeze like a Cirque du Sole troop. They are hanging everywhere! And they have only just begun to snack on your oaks and maples and fruit trees!

According to the Mass Audubon website, we can thank Canada and Europe for these ravenous little creepers. So what are they?

Do you remember way back in November and December when we were all rejoicing in the mild winter? Do you remember coming home to swarms of those little gray moths all over your porch light? BINGO! Those are the adults… Actually, it’s safe to say those are the “Daddies” since only the male moths can fly.

I will skip the freshman level biology class because you can guess what happens next. The female then lays a clump of about 150 eggs in the bark of your favorite tree and dies. Fast forward to this week (April or May depending on the weather) and these eating machines hatch, fling some string and float from one tender little bud to the next. The leaves barely have a chance as these little monsters will eat the buds before they even open.

Scanning your yard in a few weeks, you could possibly see completely defoliated trees and shrubs. You might rejoice at the thought of not having to rake in the fall, but the stress it puts on the tree can actually inhibit growth and eventually kill weaker vegetation.

What can you do?

Winter moth. (Mass. Audobon)

Winter moth. (Mass. Audobon)

I have one friend who was ready to rig up a flame-thrower last year and go full-boat Charlies Angels on her entire back yard in a desperate attempt to rid her yard of these yucky little caterpillars. I think your local fire department will agree, this is a bad idea.

There are a few steps you can take during each of the life cycles. Since we are already into the early spring phase when most (if not all) of the eggs have hatched, you only have a few options:

– Double-Sided Tape: O.K.. it isn’t simply the stuff from an arts and crafts store. The gummy tape is available at most nurseries and will discourage SOME of the worms. They fill up with green little carcasses and dust quickly and will lose their effectiveness in a short span of time. Does anyone remember the Gypsy Moth infestation a couple decades ago? The tape was entertaining for a while, but in the long run, didn’t really work. If you have only a small number of trees you need to protect, migh be worth a shot. There are no chemicals, so what harm can it do?

— Did I say CHEMICALS? I am not a fan of spraying toxins around my yard, but there is a naturally occurring bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk for short). According to the folks at Perdue University Extension, it’s found in dirt and has been used in the U.S. Since the late ’50s. Since it is a naturally occurring bacteria, it does not seem to pose a threat to people or pets, it has a short shelf life in the sun and birds who eat the dead caterpillars do not get sick.

— There also are several “over the counter” products you can order at your favorite nursery or hardware store.

— When in doubt, call the experts! There are many different tree services and bug experts here on the Cape. If you are concerned about a potentially catastrophic infestation call your landscaping company or a local tree service. They will be able to determine the best course of action based on your needs and concerns.

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.

Speak Your Mind

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy