In the past week or so, I’ve noticed extremely high numbers of caterpillars EVERYWHERE around my home and in my yard. They are falling from the trees, slinking along the ground, circling my entryways. Truly, the crazy caterpillars are proving to be an extreme nuisance. Beyond being a nuisance, they can cause severe damage to foliage if not kept in check. So, how do we minimize caterpillar populations around our home and yard?
Auburn University helps us with our a little biological information on our guest star. Caterpillars are larvae (the “worm” forms) of insects in the order Lepidoptera¬¬the butterflies, skippers, and moths. In number of species known, Lepidoptera is the second largest of all insect orders. Consequently, caterpillars are numerous; more than 11,000 species occur in North America, with over 5,000 species in the eastern United States alone. Most caterpillars are plant feeders. They occur on a wide variety of plants, and many are serious pests. Caterpillars are among the most common of all insect forms found on foliage of forest, shade, and ornamental trees.
Great, so there are 11,000 plus species waiting to feed on my plants. Where does the DIY pest controller begin? Identification of your particular caterpillar variety can be made easy work by use of a phone camera and an email address to your local extension office. My particular problem caterpillar seems to be the Forest Tent Caterpillar. They love sweet gum and oak trees, so my yard is a haven for them. It all seems that they are extremely cyclical. Numbers seem to rise greatly in 5-7 year periods.
It is recommended that egg cases, larvae and nests be physically removed from trees to discourage large numbers of caterpillars in your area.
When researching available methods of control, LSU Agriculture Extension service recommends, “Management of all these caterpillars requires spraying to reduce the populations, according to Pollet, who says any pyrethroid in combination with liquid soap is an effective control measure. The soap is used with the insecticides so that the insecticide will make better contact with the caterpillar.
“These materials are short-lived and are safe in the neighborhood environment and kill the caterpillars nearly on contact,” he said.
Applications of the pesticides can be made using a pump-up sprayer for small plants and around the home. To get into the trees to manage a larger portion of the population, Pollet says the use of a hose-end applicator is effective, since it can shoot a stream of spray about 25 to 30 feet in the air – allowing the homeowner to spray into the trees.
Bacillus thuringiensis and spinosad are non pesticide methods for control but do take longer to see results since they have to be ingested to be effective. Check with your DIY Pest Control Specialist for available products in your area.
Another tip is to conduct any spraying in early morning or late evening when the caterpillars begin to congregate near their nests. You will accomplish more with less chemical by using their natural tendency for your own benefit.