Wednesday, April 18, 2012

White Hairy Moths Everywhere!!


If your home seems like it is being invaded by white and black, hairy caterpillars, you are not alone. Seems like nearly everyone who has a good amount of trees on their property is experiencing either a little Tussock Moth or Dagger Moth Caterpillar outbreak. The picture to the right is a Dagger Moth, but several calls have come in that may be Tussock Moths. Regardless, they're general characteristics and habits are very similar.

Tussock moths have tufts of white or cream color hairs all over their bodies. Dagger moths are also very hairy, although the hair may not be in tufts (or clumps). While the hairs are not poisonous, some sensitive individuals may be irritated by the hairs. I think it is just a good idea not to touch hairy or very brightly colored caterpillars.

I suspect with the warmer weather they may be a couple weeks ahead of their normal life cycle, which is to hatch from eggs April through June. They seem to be large enough that they are getting dislodged from trees and crawling up the sides of houses. Either this is the case, or they are moving away from their host plant, getting ready to pupate.

In Tussock moths, there are three generations per year, so you may expect another outbreak or two in the coming months.

If the caterpillars are a nuisance, use some soapy water to spray on the side of the house where they are crawling. Mix about 2 tbsp of soap with water. Be careful not to spray plants as some soaps will have herbicidal properties. Soapy water may not knock them down dead immediately, but they will crawl off and die. If you need the "thrill of the kill", use another insecticide labeled for caterpillars containing malathion, permethrin, or carbaryl.

Tussock moths and Dagger moths have a very broad host range of trees. Currently, we are not seeing damage to any trees (defoliation, stripped or sekeltonized leaves). If you are seeing damage and feel the need to treat, be sure the product you purchased is labeled for trees and/or shrubs.

For more information on Tussock moths see: http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg313.html

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