This time of year in Central Texas people are doing that “get that thing off me” dance. There are creepy worms on silken threads hanging from trees in their yards. They get in your hair, on your furniture and drop onto you. They are a downside to a lovely Texas Spring. But what are they?
These little caterpillars have many names, mostly describing how they look or move. They are called leaf rollers, oak loopers, inch worms, measuring worms and spring cankerworms. They move by inching along, giving them the names inch worm and measuring worms. The loop their bodies form as they move gives them the looper name, and their habit of rolling into leaves up for protection gives them the leaf roller name. At my house, we call them inch worms. They usually live on oak trees but can infest pecans, and other trees.
Fortunately these bugs are generally more of a nuisance than a dangerous pest. They can strip a tree of leaves but a healthy mature tree can easily recover from the defoliation. During the recovery period. the trees may need a little extra TLC in the form ofwater and fertilizer. Wasps and birds are natural predators of these hungry little caterpillars.
These annoying worms are actually moth larva. They usually hatch in March, and eat the emerging leaves on live oak trees. The adult moth is dull colored, and only about an inch long; the females can’t even fly. The female moths have to crawl to a tree and climb it to lay their eggs. Around the first of May, adult moths lay their eggs in cracks in tree bark and the eggs don’t hatch until the following March. The hatched larva are our friends the inch worms. They feed on the new oak leaves and use their webs to move from tree to tree. Around the end of April, the caterpillars drop to the ground to pupate. The adult moths emerge in late April and early May to repeat the cycle.
This cycle give us our spring inch worms. These annoying little worms hanging from the trees can drive you crazy. Luckily, they don’t usually cause lasting harm to trees and their annoying habits last only a short time. Soon the inch worms will be gone for another year.
More information: https://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg293.html