Recent rains in Texas have brought forth one of our many worm-like friends, the cankerworm caterpillar, and they are invading The Lone Star State by the masses. Cankerworm caterpillars are a species of inchworm, and are the larval form of the hackberry leafroller moth. There is a lot to unpack here. First of all, ‘inchworm’ is a name thrown around a lot in reference to worm-like creatures, and the thing is that the term ‘inchworm’ is almost as broad as its application. The term refers to a whole bunch of moth species that are endemic to the North Americas, and it specifically refers to those moth caterpillars that have legs at the front and rear of their bodies, but not in the middle, forcing them to arch their back as they ‘inch’ across a surface. Secondly, a “leafroller caterpillar” is also an umbrella term, and refers to multiple species of caterpillars which roll the leaves they munch on and hide in them when they need shelter. Lastly, and most importantly, is this newsworthy invasion of caterpillars.
Cankerworm caterpillars have spread throughout North Texas because of these rains, rendering the area an ideal habitat for the green critters. The caterpillars are by no means dangerous: they do not bite or sting, and they are not venomous or parasitic. That said, they, like many other caterpillars, can still prove to be pests, if not just a nuisance. Since they are defoliators, many don’t want these caterpillars in their yards as they can damage the trees they feed on (which mostly consist of hackberry and pecan trees). Additionally, cankerworm caterpillars, like many other species of caterpillars, are able to spin silk, and they are unfortunately leaving this all over people’s property, and even inside their homes. KeraNews’ “own article on the cankerworm caterpillar invasion” reports that one unlucky boy found one of the inchworms in his lunchbox.
Now, it is not uncommon for cankerworm caterpillar populations to erupt every few years, but what is interesting about this time is that it is happening in the middle of fall, when typically they happen in the springtime. People have become worried for the trees in their gardens and yards, but given that cankerworm caterpillars are only caterpillars for a maximum of six weeks, they cannot really do any lasting damage: the trees will regrow their leaves next spring as usual. Besides, since it is already autumn, trying to prevent the defoliation of trees is pretty fruitless. Naturally, people might still be annoyed by having cankerworm caterpillars all over their property and in their home, which is understandable. For those that are finding them inside their home, we urge them not to kill the caterpillars, but just to move them outside. Soon enough they will be pupating, and after that they’ll turn into moths and fly away.
To conclude, the cankerworm caterpillar invasion of Texas is definitely real, but it is really nothing to worry about, no matter how alarming the sight might be right now for Northern Texans. We cannot imagine the incredible explosion of moths that is to come in that area – it would definitely be a sight to behold!
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