Monday, May 17, 2021

Hairy Caterpillars Make an Appearance Again

 Last year around this time, the Eastern Buck Caterpillar made an appearance in numbers I had never seen (or noticed) in South Central Texas before.  In fact, I'll admit, I'm not sure I had ever noticed those guys before!  Well, they are back again this year and more people are noticing them.

With the rain we've been having, knocking them out of trees, we're seeing them crawling on our lawns, up our houses, across the sidewalk and all over the place!  They are a stinging caterpillar and best to be avoided.  Unfortunately, you just don't know when or where you might encounter them, so be careful where you step or sit or place your hands.

It is a good general rule of thumb to avoid caterpillars with hairs or barbs coming from their body.  There is a good chance they are stinging caterpillars.

Eastern Buck Moth Caterpillar
Photo: Molly Keck

I had the misfortune of getting one on my pants the other day and accidentally bringing it inside.  When I rested my hand on my leg, I encountered the hairs/barbs and it didn't feel good!  Itched and left an uncomfortable feeling on my thumb for a couple hours.

These caterpillars will turn into interesting looking moths, called Eastern Buck Moths.  What amazes me, is that the caterpillar (immature form) is so much larger than the moth (adult form)!

There isn't much you can do about managing these caterpillars until they all pupate and go away, so for now, just don't touch!  You are more likely to encounter them as they leave their host plant in search of a spot to pupate (or get knocked from a plant when it rains), which is currently happening.  They aren't aggressive and won't come after you, but they can drop from trees.

Why are there more this year?  Probably because something happened last year to allow their population to grow (more food?  good weather? who knows!).  And when you have more babies turning into adults, there are more adults to lay more eggs and more babies coming out this year.  It isn't because of the snow storm, and the freeze certainly didn't kill them off!

Like all populations of animals, they are in a bit in flux, and we may see more next year or just a natural decline.  Time will tell, unfortunately, it's impossible to really predict what will happen until it does happen.

Should you feel the need to kill them, try a cyfluthrin product on the foliage you see them feeding.  If they are just crawling on your house or on the ground, I'm not sure there is anything that will be effective and environmentally friendly, so just be patient and wait them out.

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