Caterpillar Killers

May 31, 2008


That would be us.

And I thought it was going to be a relaxing Saturday.

I went out to get the mail this morning, and took a stroll to the other side of the yard (about 120 feet across). I had been working in the other garden beds so far and hadn’t attempted to weed/feed/re-mulch this one yet. I guess I should have looked a little sooner. I was shocked to come up to my beautiful pine tree and see that almost all of it had been exfoliated. What the?! What exfoliates a pine tree?

Poor Tree


This does.

Devil Bugs

My stomach literally churned. I drew back in sheer horror. The devilish little creatures sensed my movement and wriggled in unison as a response. Oh. my. God. Help! The tree was loaded with them. Thousands. Upon thousands.

I ran into the house to holler for the kids. They are very well-trained now. When we’ve had severe flooding in our yard and especially in our basement (up to three feet, on a regular basis), I would holler like that. In less than ten seconds, they would stampede down the stairs– ready for action. I told them to get their shoes on, girls tie back their long hair (shudder), and grab a bucket. Meet me by the hose.

Without asking any questions, they were there. What great kids. I broke the news to them. Yeah. They were as repulsed as I was. Since I had no pesticides on hand, and since these larvae were really too mature for pesticides to stop them, we would have to pick them off by hand.

Evil Bugs

The YUK Factor.

I filled the buckets with dish soap and water.

Filling Buckets

And away we went. My youngest, a bug person, actually enjoyed it after a while. I remained repulsed.

Picking Bugs

Bug Soap Soup

We found a sparrow’s nest in the pine, too. It had one little egg (had hatched) and was filled with about a dozen caterpillers.


I was very angry at the birds. I felt they had shirked their duty. Here was a literal feast and they had passed it up. My daughter had been putting out bird seed in another part of the yard; perhaps the birds were filling up too much on the seed and not on the insects. Well, no more seed for them! These birds have jobs to do!

We plucked for about three hours. We found more larvae in the other pine, too. Then we raked up all the mulch and leaves and burned it all. Muahahahhaahhahaha.

I did some research, because I had never seen such larvae that ate evergreen needles before. We have a huge pest problem with tent caterpillers in Upstate New York (I’ve already killed four web nests in my apple tree this year), but I’ve never seen anything like this. Apparently, this larvae is the European sawfly. It came, obviously, from Europe, and favors Scotch and Mugo pines trees. It exfoliates the old growth on the tree. The larvae develop into the sawfly, that then lays its eggs at the base of the tree for next year’s attack. The best defense is to hand-pick the little devils. Pesticides are ineffective when the larvae is too mature (mid- to late-May).

I think we got them all, but we are going to have to keep close watch the next few weeks. I smeared a thick layer of petroleum jelly at the base of all the pine trunks, and slathered the trunk of my neighboring Maple, as added protection. This way, if those little devils start crawling up the trunk, they’ll get stuck in the jelly. Muahahahahhahaha again.

But there’s always SOMETHING around here to beat back! Sheesh!


14 Responses to “Caterpillar Killers”

  1. chilly Says:

    WOW! Never hear or seen such! I take it that by laying eggs at the base of tree for the next year, that they don’t kill the tree. That would really be a shame indeed!

    LOL! You indeed have great kids that will jump on a job at the drop of a hat. 😉
    Hope the rest of your weekend goes great for you guys!

  2. chilly Says:

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  3. haleyhughes Says:

    Wow. That is just… uck.

    I hope you got them all. That’s not a fun job to have to repeat. Ever.

    To me, caterpillars have always been one of those critters that, by themselves, are not so bad, but put enough of them together, they become gross.

  4. Sniffy Says:

    yeah, that was not much of a fun job :P. Now I have a lot of sap stains and aches from squatting down. But at least they didn’t destroy the tree completely!

  5. Karen Says:

    Oh my goodness. We have been fighting bag worms. They are so gross.

  6. Janice Says:

    Aargh, that has to be the creepiest thing. If I have nightmares tonight I know what did it. Iv’e never seen anything like it.Maybe you need to stop putting stuff on the bird table, let them work up an appetite.YUK

  7. Lynne Says:

    You are a brave woman! I’m not sure I could’ve picked them all off, I probably would have chopped down the whole tree and burned them alive! EEWWW!

  8. Ellen Says:

    I had a similar problem like this about 2 months ago. I went out to get my dog and as I stood near the tree I glanced over at the bark and low and behold there were about 100 of those caterpillars in a mass slowly crawling up the trunk. They were beautifully disguised in the bark. So I got some soap and water, put in a sprayer and soaked those little rascals. They all fell to the ground and appeared to be dead. About an hour later I checked on them and some were crawling back up the tree. I sprayed them with my hose and after that I never saw them. Last year they made it to the top of the tree and I had many bags of worms. I just sprayed them with my hose and they finally fell. Over the weekend I found 3 small bags of worms on another tree so I sprayed them with water. From my Google research I understand that it’s very common for them each year at this time to attack the trees and I just have to be vigilant and stay after them.

  9. Tricia Says:

    Ew yuck. If it wasn’t the middle of the night I’d run outside right now to check on my three dwarf mugo pines. At least now if I encounter these evil pests I’ll know how to get rid of them. Thanks.

  10. Carole Says:

    We had the SAME EXACT thing going on here a few days ago and we used the same bucket of soapy water as our choice of execution of those durned things as well! I empathize with you – at least our bush was a lot smaller than yours. DH was even slicing them in half with a box cutter. I remember when I was a kid that year we had that terrible, terrible infestation and so many trees were defoliated and they were spraying pesticide over the area with airplanes. Hope it never gets to that point again!!!

  11. Condo Blues Says:

    I thought my battle yesterday with aphids was bad but your catapillar battle wins hands down. I hope you keep those lttle rascals at bay for the rest of the summer.

  12. Alan Bamboo Says:

    I mentioned before oranges works really well to kill ants, this year for some reason not working so well, not sure why???

    Do you have problems with grubs in lawns in Upstate NY like we do here in Quebec?? We are not allowed to use any chemicals here on plants or anything outdoors….anyone have good alternatives??? The microbes don’t seem to work!!!

  13. Alan Bamboo Says:

    I forgot to mention…….I saw what looks like the exact same caterpillar on my rosebush tonight….just one…….so far??? YAWK!!!


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