The past couple of weeks I’ve met up with some garden thugs*. They are wiggly but rather colorful. Some have threatening antenna, others think that blonde is out, redheads are in. These were caterpillars that attacked one of my oaks and one of my pines. Well, technically, the caterpillars on the oak are of the moth variety so they are indeed caterpillars; on the other hand, with at least 6 pair of legs, the pine critters are considered larvae not caterpillars and are from sawflies.
So, how did I come upon these thugs? Well, my obsession with bug photography has a lot to do with it. During a routine glance-over, I noticed that one branch of my oak was completely bare of leaves. Upon further inspection I saw that the a group of Southern Pink-striped Oakworm Moth larva (Anisota virginiensis pellucida) were busy noshing and leaving nothing behind.
This might cause some to panic and reach for the insecticide, “…but it is defoliating my tree”, they might say. Me? I get a clipper and remove the section of an offended branch. The attack was limited to a small area. No muss, no fuss, no more damage, even days later. This time I placed the branch up on the platform bird feeder. Hopefully some birds stopped by for an easy meal. If you don’t want to chance them slithering back, a soapy-water killing jar is effective. Oddly, the resulting moths are quite pretty so I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need for action. Actually, I didn’t think anything of it until I started to write this article.
I’m not really sure why we find that Gulf Fritillary caterpillars who dispense with our passion vines are fun to watch as they remove every last bit of green and yet those that chew on our oaks are somehow less important in nature’s scheme of things. Last year I cleared some oakworms off the front oak (which seems unaffected this year), but left others as bird food or to continue the chain of nature. If I see a second infestation on any of the oaks, I’ll do the same, now that my brain is on straight. I’ll still take on the roll of the balance of nature; and hope that Mother Nature gives me a passing grade although there are dozens of lizards that I’m sure would be glad to help eliminate them without my interference.
I’ve been concerned about my pines since a lot of young pines in the neighborhood have turned brown and I have been trying to let my lot restore pines where they are growing naturally. I check the 15 or so in the backyard that are of various ages from grass stage (which can last a few years), to bottlebrush stage (which can last a few more). All seemed just fine.
I walked up front to where one is a young bottlebrush stage and I noticed that the needles looked a little chewed over. AHHHHHHHH, the infamous, Redheaded Pine Sawfly (Neodiprion lecontei). A menacing looking bunch, but quite easy to dismiss as they will simply fall into a bucket of soapy water if you hold it out and shake the pine a bit and the hangers-on can easily be slid off the tree and into the solution. One treatment of the shake and slide technique has eliminated all the culprits. The balance of the trees are unaffected.
So, before you grab insecticide if you see pest caterpillars, consider eliminating the problem with a small amount of time and muscle. They have a gang mentality (at least these two groups) and pretty much stick together making it easy to reel them in. Just routinely check your landscape so you catch them early. The environment will be better for it. Now if only there was some way to actually have a gang war between the two.
* I am eternally grateful to our own Ursula Vernon for this really neat terminology
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