We just received this message (with some minor editing) from a reader, “I have Catalpa worms falling from a very large tree. I’m wanting to set them up to live a few days so I took a large plastic coffee can and put some air holes in it, put about 3 inches of dirt from around the tree into the bottom of the can, and added just enough water to moisten the soil. Is this enough to keep them alive a few days? I have a friend who wants to start a tree but doesn’t have the tree yet. Any advice?”
Before we dive in, we want to provide a little bit of background information for anyone who is unfamiliar with Catalpa or Catawba worms. (The words Catalpa and Catawba are interchangeable for both the tree and the worm.) Catalpa worms are the larvae of sphinx moths, which technically makes them caterpillars. In true caterpillar fashion, they eat the foliage of trees and can sometimes be considered pests. Catalpa worms eat Catalpa trees (or Catawba trees), which are 40-70 foot trees that live for about 60 years. As we mentioned, these caterpillars can be considered pests, but on the other hand some people raise them and plant Catalpa trees specifically to collect the worms to use as fishing bait.
Our reader didn’t specifically mention that he and his friend need the worms for fishing, but we do know his friend is interested in raising a colony of caterpillars on a newly planted Catalpa tree. As far as keeping the Catalpa worms alive, we think our reader has a pretty nice setup going with the coffee can full of dirt. We encourage him to add a few layers of leaves from his Catalpa tree so the caterpillars have something to eat. He should continue to add leaves to the can as needed until his friend is able to transplant the Catalpa worms onto his new tree.
To wrap up, one of our readers inquired on the best way to keep Catalpa worms alive for a few days. He set them up in a coffee can filled with dirt and a little water. We believe he should add leaves from the Catalpa tree so they have something to eat!