Friday, April 17, 2015

Caterpillars- buck moth caterpillar, cankerworms and tent caterpillars

The insects seemingly have arrived in our demogarden the past week.  I was out there with Master gardeners this morning and there was a lot to makes me EXCITED (the Master Gardeners, not so much, as many of the insects are eating the plants they are tending so carefully).

So two items have already been covered recently in blog posts written by Dr. Mike Merchant in Dallas, so I'm going to direct to those pages and you can get all your information there.

Tent caterpillar
First are the tent caterpillars.  I had my neighbor find one last weekend and she sent me a picture for identification.  Mike's post on tent caterpillars.

Secondly, would be the cankerworms.  If you have oak trees in your area (and this is Texas, so who doesn't have oak trees, right?) then you probably have seen these or at least evidence of their activity.  Have you seen the silken threads hanging down from trees?  If so, then you have seen webbing from cankerworms.  Again, Mike has a great post on cankerworms here.

The last thing I want to cover is a caterpillar you DO NOT want to pick up.  This caterpillar has branching spines that can deliver a sting if touched.

Buck moth caterpillar
Buck moth caterpillars typically have a background color that is dark, but they can have varying coloration so some can be very light.  The body has white spots and the spines are double branched and form multiple rows along the body.  They can be almost 2 1/2 inches when fully grown.

Buck moth larvae are gregarious and will group together for the first three instars (smaller caterpillar stages).  After the third instar, they will wander off from the other caterpillars to feed on other plants until it is time to pupate.  And remember above how I was talking about oaks in Texas?  Well, that is the preferred food of buck moth caterpillars.

The adult buck moths are quite pretty and have a wingspan of 2-3 inches.  Wings are blackish in color with a white stripe running through the center with dark eyespots. Females have a solid black body while males have a black body with the tip of the abdomen being reddish-orange.

As mentioned previously, you DO NOT want to pick up the buck moth caterpillars.  The branching, urticating spines can deliver a sting when touched.  Reaction from the sting can vary but may include immediate pain, itching, swelling and redness.


Friday, April 3, 2015


There are three main types of termites that can cause problems for homeowners in Central Texas- native subterranean termites, formosan subterranean termites and drywood termites.  To identify termites you will need to obtain soldiers (ones with a hard head with large mandibles) or reproductives with wings.

Native subterranean termie soldier.
Native subterranean termites have nests in the soil and must maintain contact with soil or an above-ground moisture source to survive.  If native subterranean termites move to areas above ground they make shelter (mud) tubes of fecal material, saliva and soil to protect themselves.

Formosan subterranean termite soldiers.
Formosan termites are a more voracious type of subterranean termite.  These termites have been spread throughout Texas through transport of infested material or soil.  Formosan termites build carton nests that allow them to survive above ground without contact with the soil.  Nests are often located in hollow spaces, such as wall voids.

Formosan termites feed on a wider variety of cellulose than other subterranean termites, including live plants, consuming both spring and summer growth wood whereas native subterranean termites feed only on spring growth.    Formosan termites have also been known to chew through non-cellulose materials such as soft metals, plaster or plastic.

Drywood termite pellets (fecal material).
Drywood termites do not need contact with soil and reside in sound, dry wood.  These termites obtain moisture from the wood they digest. Drywood termites create a dry fecal pellet that can be used as an identifying characteristic.  They have smaller colonies- around 1,000 termites- than subterranean termites; they also do not build shelter tubes.

If you are concerned that you may have termites, call a pest management professional to inspect your home for termites.