I have been getting a lot of calls lately about caterpillars defoliating trees in the county. When the culprit has been brought into the office for me to identify, it has been the walnut caterpillar. Since so many people have been seeing this pest in their neighborhoods, I thought that I would share with you a short write-up from K-State Research and Extension’s Horticulture expert, Ward Upham about this little pest and how you can control them if you feel it may be necessary.
If you notice leaves disappearing from walnut trees, it may be walnut caterpillars. Walnut caterpillars attack primarily black walnut, pecan, and several species of hickory trees, but may also attack birch, oak, willow, honey locust, and apple trees.
Walnut caterpillars overwinter as pupae underground beneath host trees. In late spring, moths emerge and deposit egg clusters on lower leaves. By the end of June, newly emerged and gregarious larvae skeletonize leaves. Larger hairy, brick-red larvae consume greater amounts of leaf tissue, and nearly matured gray larvae devour entire leaves, including petioles.
As mentioned earlier, walnut caterpillars are gregarious. In other words, they feed in groups. A single tree may contain several groups.
When disturbed, larvae arch their bodies in what looks like a defensive move. Larvae crowd together on the lower parts of trees to molt and leave an ugly patch of hairy skins. Mature larvae, 2 inches long, descend or drop to the ground where they enter the soil to pupate. A second generation occurs soon, creating the overwintering pupae.
Removing leaves with egg masses is an effective way to control walnut caterpillars. This may be impractical with large trees or when too many infested leaves are present. Bands of Tree Tanglefoot pest barrier may be used to snare larvae as they migrate to main branches or the trunk to molt. Insecticides such as spinosad (Conserve; Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew; Borer, Bagworm, Leafminer and Tent Caterpillar Spray) permethrin (numerous trade names) malathion or cyfluthrin (Tempo, Bayer Vegetable and Garden Insect Spray) may provide the most practical means of control. (Ward Upham)
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 620-793-1910