Sentinel Progress

What is in my trees?

PICKENS COUNTY — As hard as it is to believe, Autumn is just around the corner. In South Carolina, our Summers last longer than in many other areas of the country and it’s not unreasonable to wait until late October before trading your tshirts and sandals for jeans and a sweatshirt.

But if you look around, there are signs of the approaching seasonal change: kids headed back to school, maybe a slightly lower power bill from not running the AC quite as much and, of course, the giant clusters of webs appearing in trees.

Wait, what?

Seriously. Have you seen them? Big, lush, green trees — that look pretty healthy — except for the giant balls of webbing dripping from the branches. What in the world is that?

Well, it’s not spiders — it’s caterpillars. A lot of them.

Allow me to introduce you to the “fall webworm.”

Hyphantria Cunea is the larval form of small white moth but before they can get to the pretty fluttering stage, they need to grow up. Hence, the weird webby nests.

According to Entomologists at North Carolina State University, fall webworms are basically harmless and despite their unattractive (and honestly, kind of creepy) nests, they don’t cause any lasting damage to trees.

They are often confused with Bag Worms and the Eastern Tent Caterpillar but NC State points out an easy way to tell the difference: their nests.

Bag worms are sneaky and camouflage their nests — they’re also much smaller and you have to really look to find them.

The tent caterpillar’s nest is closer. After all, it — like the fall webworm’s — resembles a big spiderweb. The main difference between the two is location, location, location.

The tent caterpillar likes to build its nest in the crotches of a tree, usually close to the trunk while the webworm prefers the ends of branches.

Also, the tents spin their nests earlier in the year: late Spring and early Summer. Webworms don’t get going until later in the Summer.

So, now that you’ve identified them, what do you do about it?

Well, NC State says you don’t have to do anything. After all, they’re not really going to do any serious damage. But if you still want them gone, you have two options:

You can break open the nest and let nature do it’s thing. With the webbing ruptured, birds will be all over it and the caterpillars won’t stand a chance.

Option two, just pull the nest down. The fall webworms don’t breed quickly enough to just spin up another one and your tree will be most likely remain clear until next Fall.

The fall webworm caterpillar fall webworm caterpillar Courtesy photos
Fall Webworms are often confused with the Eastern Tent Caterpillar and Bag Worms. Webworms are often confused with the Eastern Tent Caterpillar and Bag Worms. Courtesy photos
The fall webworms are the larval stage of a small white moth. fall webworms are the larval stage of a small white moth. Courtesy photos
Have you seen these around town? you seen these around town? Kasie Strickland | The Sentinel-Progress

By Kasie Strickland

Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.