While cutworms can be common during the summer months into the fall, we usually don’t expect to see them this time of the year. Surprisingly, there’s one cold-hardy species that has been common in Wisconsin recently—the “winter cutworm” (Noctua pronuba). This species gets its name due to the fact that the caterpillars are cold-tolerant and can be active when temperatures dip. While they won’t be out-and-about during a polar vortex, I’ve had many recent reports at the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab of winter cutworm caterpillars wandering on the snow when temperatures have been in the 20’s. Overall, there are very few caterpillars that venture onto the snow, period.
Similar to other cutworms, the winter cutworms are plump, earth-toned caterpillars—they are brownish with pairs of black dashes bordered by white running down the sides of their backside, which makes them easy to identify. (Technically, a greenish form of the caterpillars also occurs). In addition, if you see any caterpillar that even looks “cutworm-like” out on the snow, it’s almost certainly this species. They pass through the the winter as nearly-mature caterpillars before pupating in the spring. The adult moths are active during the warmer months and display an amazing array of different color forms—ranging from very light beige to grey or brownish—although the hindwings (typically tucked under the body at rest) are a diagnostic yellow color. Thus, adults are commonly known as “large yellow underwing” moths.
The winter cutwormcan be found from coast-to-coast in much of the US and Canada, although this wasn’t always the case. This species is common in Europe and wasn’t known from North America until 1979 when it was first spotted in Nova Scotia. While the caterpillars do feed on a wide range of plants, they’re rarely a notable pest. Outbreaks and reports of damage aren’t common, although there was a notable outbreak in Michigan around 2007-2008. In most cases, these caterpillars are simply a curiosity as they wander across the snow on mild winter days—sometimes by the thousands. In addition, winter cutworms can occasionally sneak into structures as well, which can be another surprise to see caterpillars actiely wandering in garages or barns when the temperature is in the 40’s.
Heading into the growing season, spongy moth (Lymantria dispar, formerly known as the “gypsy moth”) was poised to have a big year in Wisconsin.That prediction has held up and I’ve seen an influx of reports of spongy moth caterpillars and damage at the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab (IDL) this spring.In some areas, these caterpillars are causing conspicuous damage, which has also led to a flurry of questions from the public on what to do about them.Let’s take a look at how this season has shaped up, how the next few weeks could turn out, and what can be done.
What’s happened so far (as of mid-June)?
After a cool start to spring, we saw some unseasonably warm temperatures during the second week of May, which jump-started a lot of insect activity.I saw a distinct increase in diagnostic requests at the IDL around this time as well as my first reports of spongy moth caterpillars.
Initial sightings of small caterpillars mostly involved larvae dangling from trees and structures from silken threads—a dispersal mechanism down as “ballooning”.In other cases, thousands of tiny, dark caterpillars stood out against light-colored siding of homes. At first, these tiny caterpillars couldn’t cause much damage—with their small size, they simply don’t eat much.It isn’t until caterpillars are larger and more mature that they really start to chow down and damage increases dramatically. It’s estimated that 80-90% of the damage caused by these caterpillars is from the final two larval substages (instars). Reports of notable damage started to pop up a few weeks later in early June.
Based on the reports coming in to the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, the heaviest spongy moth activity in 2022 spans from southeastern Wisconsin (Lake Geneva area) west through Rock, Green, and Dane Counties, and north to Sauk, Juneau and Monroe Counties.Overall, Dane and Walworth Counties stand out for the number of spongy moth sightings and reports of damage that I’ve received.
What will the next few weeks be like?
The end of caterpillar activity is in sight—but we’re not there yet.I’m still getting reports of spongy moth caterpillars and likely will for a few more weeks.In many cases, the caterpillars being spotted are now pretty large (1¾– 2 inches), meaning that they’re feeding voraciously and causing lots of damage to plants. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that these large caterpillars should also be pupating in the near future—putting an end to their damage for the season. However, I’ve been receiving reports of mixed caterpillar sizes, with some caterpillars only measuring ¾ – 1 inch long.These smaller “stragglers” will continue to feed and cause damage into July, meaning we’re not entirely out of the woods yet.
Another variable that could be at play this year is a beneficial fungus known asEntomophaga maimaiga.This disease can specifically infect and kill spongy moth caterpillars and can play an important role in regulating their populations over time.Last year’s drought likely helped set the stage for 2022 by suppressing this beneficial fungus. This spring we’ve had pretty regular precipitation in many parts of the Midwest, which could help put a dent in spongy moth populations if this pathogen kicks in.
What can be done about spongy moth?
This has been one of the commonest questions I’ve been getting recently and have seen plenty of posts on social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor asking this same question. Management of spongy moth really depends on the life stage of the insect. The UW-Madison Division of Extension Spongy Moth website has an excellent month-by-month discussion of management approaches.
For small numbers of yard trees, the burlap band method can be a way to remove larger caterpillars from the equation.However, it’s important to understand that this method can be time and labor intensive as you need to check bands daily and brush caterpillars into a container of soapy water to maximize effectiveness. [Note: don’t touch the caterpillars bare-handed, it hurts!].For large trees, there’s not much else that an individual homeowner can do other than discussing chemical treatment options with an arborist. Many of the online posts I’ve seen have had an element of panic, but it’s also important to keep in mind that trees that are in otherwise good health can generally tolerate defoliation and will push out another batch of leaves later this year.I start to worry more about plant health when trees are defoliated repeatedly, as that can lead to secondary issues over time.
I’ve also seen a number of questions about aerial sprays for spongy moth.This year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has been coordinating aerial spraying in the western parts of the state to slow the overall spread of this invasive species.The treatment used in early-season aerial sprays (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) is most effective against small caterpillars. Later spraying will focus on disrupting the ability of adult moths to successfully find a mate. In theory, members of the public could band together to coordinate aerial spraying in their local area, but the planning process for this can take months.By the time folks were posting on social media expressing a desire for aerial treatments in their neighborhood, that option was no longer feasible.
One key thing to pay attention to later this summer will be the egg masses laid by adult female spongy moths. Each egg mass can contain upwards of 1,000 eggs, so surveying for egg masses can give insight into what the spongy moth situation could be like in 2023. Those egg masses will also remain in place for roughly nine months until they hatch next spring, which gives lots of time for a search-and-destroy scavenger hunt in your yard.
For additional information on managing spongy moths, check out the updated UW-Madison Division of Extension factsheet on this insect and the Extension spongy moth website with month-by-month recommendations.
The spongy moth, Lymantria dispar has recently been in the news because of its new name. If you haven’t heard of the “spongy moth” before, it’s probably because you learned of this insect as the “gypsy moth”. It’s the same exact creature, just with a new common name.
Why the change?The word “gypsy” in this insect’s name was originally a reference to persons of Romani descent—“the popular name of the gypsy was no doubt suggested by the brown, tanned kind of color of the male” [Forbush & Fernald, 1896]. In 2021, the Entomological Society of America’s Better Common Names Project started to review the common names used to communicate about insects. Common names that include derogatory or inappropriate terms are being assessed. After a lengthy review process, the term “spongy moth” was ultimately decided upon to describe Lymantria dispar—and fittingly so. The beige egg masses of this insect have a soft, spongy consistency. In French-speaking parts of its range, this species has long been known as La Spongieuse for this very reason. Thus, you’ll be hearing more about the “spongy moth” over time as the term “gypsy moth” is phased out from educational/government websites and other resources.
In addition to the name change, the spongy moth should be on our radar for other reasons. Despite being in Wisconsin for decades, this pest can still be a serious defoliator of hardwood trees, both in yards and forested areas. From the period of 2014 – 2020, spongy moths haven’t been much of an issue. An important reason for this is a beneficial fungus known as Entomophaga maimaiga. This fungus was introduced from Japan and it is strongly associated with the spongy moth. Although it took some time to make an impact in the US, this fungus is now viewed as an important “check” on spongy moth populations. Spring rains encourage this fungus, which can cause high mortality amongst spongy moth caterpillars. However, in many parts of Wisconsin we saw an unusually dry year in 2021 which likely curbed the impacts of this fungus. As a result, I saw an increase in cases and reports of spongy moth caterpillars and their damage, adults, and egg masses at the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab last year and Wisconsin also saw a subtle uptick in defoliation of forested areas.
As illustrated in the chart above, spongy moth populations can be very dynamic and can explode under the right conditions—leading to extensive defoliation. The egg-laying strategy of this species plays an important role in this dynamic. Adult female spongy moths deposit egg masses that can easily contain upwards of 1,000 eggs. In late summer and fall of 2021, I saw plenty of reports where trees contained dozens of egg masses, which could turn into tens of thousands of hungry caterpillars this spring.
Luckily, there’s still a bit of time to take advantage of this knowledge as the young caterpillars typically don’t become active until late April or early May. In the meantime, removal or destruction of the egg masses could help reduce local populations. While often found on trees, the egg masses can also be located on just about any surface in a yard—stacked boards, sides of structures, piles of firewood, and even on vehicles. Don’t delay if you noticed spongy moth activity in your area last year, since it won’t be long before the caterpillars are out and active this spring.
Reference: Forbush, E. H. and C.H. Fernald. 1896. The gypsy moth. Porthetria dispar A report of the work of destroying the insect in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, together with an account of its history and habits both in Massachusetts and Europe. Boston, Wright & Potter. 495pp.
It’s been hard to miss the recent news headlines about fall armyworms “FAW” (Spodopterafrugiperda). States east of the Rockies have seen historical outbreaks of this insect in 2021, including a bit of fall armyworm activity here in Wisconsin. In some cases, the caterpillars have decimated entire crop fields or home lawns overnight before marching onwards in search of “greener pastures”.
We usually don’t see much of the fall armyworm in Wisconsin and it’s primarily a pest of warmer areas, such as the gulf coast states. The FAW is native to tropical and subtropical parts of the western hemisphere and the larvae (caterpillars) can feed on dozens of different types of plants—ranging from field crops to fruits and vegetables and even turfgrass. They can be particularly important pests to crops such as corn, grains, and alfalfa.
The fall armyworm can’t survive the winters in the US, other than the southernmost areas (e.g., southern Texas and Florida). However, in spring and summer the adult moths migrate northwards and lay eggs. Over the course of many generations and subsequent northward migration, fall armyworms can make it to the upper Midwest and even parts of southern Canada. Historically, fall armyworm has rarely been a notable pest in Wisconsin or the upper Midwest—it simply arrives too late or in too small of numbers to be a concern. To a certain extent, every year is a roll of the dice, but the odds are usually in our favor in Wisconsin and other northern states.
This year has been different though, with large numbers being spotted northwards and reports of significant damage coming in from nearby states such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio. Many other states ranging from Kansas to the mid-Atlantic region have also been impacted in the later parts of summer. While there have been scattered reports of fall armyworm damage to field crops in southern parts of Wisconsin, the lateness of this pest’s arrival and our declining temperatures have likely spared us from the widespread damage seen in other states.
Under hot conditions (e.g. temps in the 90’s), the life cycle of the fall armyworm—from eggs to adult moths—can take only a few weeks. However, fall armyworms are “cold blooded” creatures and cooler temperatures slow down their growth and development. Depending on how chilly it is, their life cycle can be “stretched out” to take 60 days or longer—leaving them much more vulnerable to predation, parasitism, or exposure to frosts.
One study* found that fall armyworm eggs didn’t hatch at all if temperatures were cool enough (though not particularly chilly by Wisconsin standards). That particular study simulated daytime/nighttime temperatures of 21˚C (70˚F) and 8˚C (46˚F)—temperatures that are “in the ballpark” for many parts of Wisconsin by mid-September and are often considered downright “pleasant” by Wisconsinites. Eggs held at warmer temperatures in the experiment hatched just fine.
For eggs that did hatch this year in Wisconsin, cool temperatures also could have helped us out by slowing down their development. As they grow, fall armyworms pass through six sub-stages (instars). The early instar caterpillars are so small, they simply can’t eat much and cause little damage. It’s not until FAW caterpillars become more mature fifth and sixth instars that they really start to chow down and cause significant damage to plants. Thus, falling temps could help prevent the fall armyworm caterpillars from making it to the destructive late instar stages and could also leave them more exposed to a variety of threats.
The fall armyworm outbreak of 2021 could very well be a “once every few decades” type of event, and our northern location likely helped us avoid the significant problems seen in other states. However, if changing climate gives the fall armyworm a “head start” by overwintering farther north, it’s possible that we could see more of this pest in Wisconsin in the future.
*Barfield, Mitchell, and Poe. 1987. A Temperature-Dependent Model for Fall Armyworm Development. Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 71(1): 70-74.
In this post, we’re continuing to count down the University of Wisconsin Insect Diagnostic Lab’s top arthropod trends of 2018. This is the second half of a two part series; the first half can be found here.
5) White-Lined and Other Sphinx Moths:
The white-lined sphinx moth (Hyleslineata) can be a common species, so encountering one of the 3 inch long hornworm caterpillars isn’t unusual. However, these caterpillars can also be encountered in massive road-traversing hordes if the conditions are just right. From midsummer onwards, large numbers of these caterpillars were observed around the state—in some cases by the tens of thousands. If you didn’t spot any of the caterpillars themselves, you might have encountered the large adult moths with their hummingbird-like behaviour in late summer. Several other sphinx moths species also had a strong presence in 2018, such as the clearwing hummingbird moths and the tobacco and tomato hornworm caterpillars which can regularly be encountered in gardens as they munch away on tomato and pepper plants.
Sawflies, the caterpillar copycats of the insect world, are a diverse group, so they’re always present to some extent. Last year saw an unexpected abundance of two particular types in Wisconsin—the dogwood sawfly and the non-native Monostegia abdominalis, which feeds on creeping Jenny and related plants from the loosestrife group (Lysimachia species). While sawflies are plant feeders, dogwood sawflies can also damage the soft wood of a home’s siding or trim when these insects excavate small chambers to pupate in. The UW Insect Diagnostic Lab saw a distinct bump in reports of wood damage from the dogwood sawfly last year.
True armyworms (Mythimna unipuncta) can be a dynamic and sporadic pest in the Midwest. This species doesn’t survive the cold winters of our area, so adult armyworm moths must invade from the south each spring. Depending on national weather patterns, the arrival of the adult moths can vary significantly from year to year. If an early mass arrival is followed by abundant food and ideal conditions for the ensuing caterpillars, large populations can result. Once they’ve arrived, true armyworms can go through 2-3 generations in the state and this second generation of caterpillars made an alarming appearance in mid-to-late July. Under the conditions last summer, massive hordes of these caterpillars decimated crop fields before marching across roads by the tens or hundreds of thousands to look for their next meal. In some cases, that next meal included turfgrass, meaning that some Wisconsinites came home from work to biblical hordes of caterpillars and half-eaten lawns in late July.
2) Monarch Butterflies:
Much to the delight of fans and conservationists, the iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) appeared to have a banner year in the Midwest in 2018. Reports and observations of high numbers of monarchs poured into the Insect Diagnostic Lab during the summer months. As comforting as these reports were, the butterflies still faced a perilous 2,000 mile journey to reach their overwintering grounds in Mexico. The most consistent measurement of the eastern monarch population comes from estimating the area occupied by the densely-packed overwintering butterflies. In late January the latest count was released with encouraging news—the eastern monarch population is up 144% over last year and is estimated to be the largest in over a decade. In contrast, the western monarch population overwinters in southern California and has recently dipped to alarmingly low numbers. Regardless of the winter assessments, monarchs face tough challenges and Wisconsinites are encouraged to help conserve this iconic species. The Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative recently launched a website with resources for those wishing to join the effort.
1) Floodwater Mosquitoes:
Mosquitoes snagged the top spot on 2018’s list for good reason. The upper Great Lakes region is home to over 60 different mosquito species, but one subset—the “floodwater” mosquitoes—drove the storyline last year and impacted outdoor activities through much of the spring and summer months. Mosquitoes in this group, such as the inland floodwater mosquito (Aedes vexans), flourish when heavy rains come. Last year’s mosquito season kicked off in force with a batch of pesky and persistent floodwater mosquitoes just before Memorial Day weekend. Mosquito monitoring traps in southern Wisconsin captured record numbers of mosquitoes shortly thereafter. Later in the year, the Midwest experienced an unprecedented series of severe rainstorms, setting the stage for an encore performance of these mosquitoes. It was this second explosion of mosquitoes that caught the attention of anyone trying to enjoy the outdoors in late summer—a time of the year when mosquitoes are typically winding down in the state.
Each year the University of Wisconsin’s Insect Diagnostic Lab receives thousands of arthropod samples and reports from around the state and region, providing a unique perspective into insect and arthropod trends in Wisconsin and beyond. This post is the first half of a series counting down the top arthropod trends in our area last year. The second part will be posted in early February and can be found here.
10) Dagger and Tussock Moths:
A few species of fuzzy caterpillars were surprisingly abundant last year and there’s a good chance you might have bumped into these in your own neighborhood. Two similar-looking yellowish species, the American dagger moth and the white-marked tussock moth, were extremely common around Wisconsin and were two of the most widely reported caterpillars last summer. Another tussock moth associated with milkweed was also surprisingly common in 2018. With many Wisconsinites growing milkweed to attract monarch butterflies, the black and orange caterpillars of the milkweed tussock moth were also noted in abundance around the state last year.
9) Fungus Gnats:
Pick any spot on a Wisconsin map and 2018 was most likely a soggy year. Understandably, rain encourages insects and other creatures that thrive under damp conditions. Last year’s rains created great conditions for fungus gnats, which became quite abundant by late summer. While fungus gnats are harmless to people and pets, they can be an annoyance if present in high numbers. Fungus gnats thrive in damp organic materials, meaning that rich soil, compost piles, and decaying plants can produce masses of these tiny, dark-colored flies. The larvae of these insects can also be common in the soil of houseplants. As Wisconsinites brought their favorite potted plants indoors in autumn to avoid approaching frosts, reports of indoor fungus gnats were common.
8) Purple Carrot Seed Moth:
With several new, non-native insects showing up in Wisconsin every year, the impacts of each species can vary significantly. Some exotics, like the emerald ash borer make massive waves, while others cause merely a ripple. The impacts of one of our newest invasive insects, the purple carrot seed moth (Depressaria depressana), are not yet fully known. This European species was spotted in Wisconsin for the first time last summer and the tiny caterpillars love to feed on the flowers (umbels) of plants from the carrot family. Below-ground plant structures (e.g., the taproots of carrots) aren’t impacted, but notable damage to herbs like dill, fennel, and coriander can occur. As a result, this pest may be a concern for seed producers, commercial herb growers, or home gardeners with a fondness for dill and related herbs. The purple carrot seed moth has been reported in 8 Wisconsin counties thus far [Brown, Columbia, Dodge, Kewaunee, Milwaukee, Racine, Sheboygan and Washington Counties], so new county-level reports are encouraged at the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab.
7) Odorous House Ants
Imagine the stereotypical black ants zeroing in on sugary foods at a picnic and you’d have a fitting profile of the odorous house ant (Tapinomasessile). Of the 100+ ant species in the Midwest, the odorous house ant stood out in spring and early summer last year with its sheer abundance. The UW Insect Diagnostic Lab was flooded with calls about these sugar-loving ants during 2018’s rainy spring, especially when these ants wandered indoors. The spring rains may have forced the ants from waterlogged colonies to seek out higher-and-drier locations, making odorous house ants the most commonly reported ant at the diagnostic lab last spring.
6) Stink Bugs:
While the Midwest is home to over 50 species of stink bugs, one particular species—the invasive brown marmorated stink bug—stands out to give the rest a particularly bad reputation. If you live in a part of the state with the brown marmorated stink bug, you may have already encountered this species. With its habit of sneaking indoors in the fall, this insect replaced boxelder bugs in some areas as the top home-invading nuisance pest of 2018. This Asian species has made the diagnostic lab’s Top 10 list for several years now and unfortunately doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In 2018 alone, BMSB was detected in 8 new Wisconsin counties, which hints at potential damage to fruit and other crops in those areas in the coming years.
To see the rest of Wisconsin’s top arthropod trends of 2018, check out part 2, available here in early February.
In a given year at the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, I typically document 2-3 new, non-native, potentially-invasive insects in Wisconsin. In some cases, these species make an appearance only to fade into the background with little impact, while other exotics become heavy-hitting invasive pests (e.g., emerald ash borer and gypsy moth). The latest non-native pest to make an appearance in the state is the tiny “purple carrot seed moth” (Depressaria depressana) and its impacts are not yet fully known. This species has a wide native range and can be found from western Europe through Russia to China. It was first documented in North America in 2008 and is so new that few images exist and it’s not included in the common caterpillar and moth field guides on the market.
In the last decade, the purple carrot seed moth has been documented in many locations in southern Canada and the northeastern US and has also been spotted in a few scattered locations in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. In mid-July of 2018, two reports came into the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab in rapid succession—Kewaunee and Dodge counties in Wisconsin. These cases were confirmed through images and caterpillar specimens that were reared to adult moths. After discussing the purple carrot seed moth on a recent episode of Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Larry Meiller Show, several additional suspected cases were reported in the state: Racine (Racine Co.), Random Lake (Sheboygan Co.), Burnett (Dodge Co.), and Franklin (Milwaukee Co.).
These insects get their name due to their association with flowers (umbels) of plants in the carrot family (Umbelliferae). The caterpillars of the purple carrot seed moth are small (3/8 inch long when mature), but dozens can feed on a single umbel. The caterpillars are dark green or reddish with many conspicuous white spots on their bodies. In addition to feeding on the flowers, the caterpillars tie together floral parts with silken webbing, which can make herbs like dill unusable. Eventually the caterpillars pupate within the webbing and emerge as adult moths a short time later. The adult moths are 3/8 inch long with a pale patch near the head; their purplish-grey wings are folded back along the body when not flying.
The impacts of this non-native insect are not fully known for our area. The reports of plant damage in Wisconsin thus far have only been on dill. Due to the plant parts attacked (flowers), the impact on carrots, celery, and parsnip crops will likely be minor. The biggest impacts would be expected with umbelliferous crops commonly grown for seeds: dill, fennel, and coriander. Luckily, several organic control products may offer help on herbs: insecticidal soap and Neem oil are two low-impact products expected to help control this pest, if needed. Cutting out and destroying infested flower heads may be another helpful tactic.
Because this pest is “new” in Wisconsin, if you believe you’ve found it on dill or other plants from the carrot family, please snap some pictures and contact me to help document this species in the state.
If you’d like to learn more about this insect and its potential impacts check out this video through the Wisconsin First Detector Network.
June 2020 Update:A current distribution of known PCSM sightings can be found below. If you encounter this insect this summer in Wisconsin, feel free to let me know, so I can better keep track of its activity in the state. —PJ
Caterpillars, and the moths and butterflies they become (Order Lepidoptera), normally make up less than 20% of the cases in the diagnostic lab, while beetles (Order Coleoptera) usually make up the largest chunk of the pie (almost 30%). However, spring often tells a slightly different story around the lab:So what does this mean?Well, as far as caterpillars are concerned, it’s been a great spring in Wisconsin. Perhaps you’ve even noticed some happily munching on the trees and shrubs in your yard. If you’re curious to meet the culprits, there’s a good chance they’re on this list:
Of all the caterpillar species that have popped up this spring, the speckled green fruitworm (Orthosiahibisci) has been the biggest surprise. It’s usually present, but in low enough numbers that damage isn’t common. Despite having the word “fruit” in its name, this species feeds on more than just fruit trees—it also feeds on a long list of hardwood trees and shrubs and even some conifers. This spring I’ve had reports of it damaging: maples, oaks, hackberry, lindens, elm, serviceberry, apple, spruce, peonies, roses, and other plants.
The humped green fruitworm (Amphipyrapyramidoides), has a similar feeding pattern to its speckled cousin and has also been common this spring. An interesting thing about the green humped fruitworm is that the caterpillars turn into copper underwing moths. Perhaps that name sounds vaguely familiar? If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember the invasion of the copper underwings from last summer. It’s too early to tell, but with the numbers of green humped fruitworm caterpillars I’ve been seeing, I wonder if we might see the copper-colored adults sneaking into buildings again in the coming months. . .
Like the fruitworms, the linden looper (Erannistiliaria; a type of inchworm) and the nefarious gypsy moth (Lymantriadispar) also feed on a wide range of plants and have been popping up this spring. I haven’t had any reports of large-scale significant defoliation by gypsy moth, but there are pockets of damage and gypsy moth certainly seems to be more active than last year at this time. Hopefully with the rains we’ve had lately, the fungal disease, Entomophagamaimaiga, will pop up to smack down the gypsy moth numbers.
Then there are the “tent” caterpillars, which have also been common this spring: the eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americana) and the forest tent caterpillar (Malacosomadisstria). The eastern tent caterpillar is the species that makes the silken tents in apple, crabapple, and black cherry trees where the branches meet the trunk of the tree. Despite its name, the closely related forest tent caterpillar doesn’t make any tents…
Lastly, if you’ve got a burning bush (Euonymusalatus) or another type of euonymus, you might have noticed some webbing on your plant from the euonymus caterpillar (Yponomeutacagnagella). In some cases, the webbing from these polka-dotted caterpillars can cover the entire plant, making you think that giant mutant spiders have taken over. Complete defoliation can occur with this species, but thankfully, most healthy plants leaf out again and are generally fine.
Now for some good news: while all of these spring caterpillars have the potential to significantly damage plants, they only have a single generation per year—meaning that they’re just about done wreaking havoc for the year in the southern part of the state. That’ll give us just enough time to get ready for the next batch of insects coming up soon: squash vine borer, squash bugs, Japanese beetles and many more!