A reader just wrote us about a Catalpa tree that was transferred from her grandfather’s yard to her own. She wrote that the tree is very healthy, and this year it produced white blooms for the first time. However, the tree is not occupied by any Catawba worms. She wonders if there is a way to attract the moths that in turn will bring the worms, or if she needs to transplant the worms from another tree to get an initial population started.
First, let’s lay out some background information. Even though they are called Catawba “worms” these creatures are actually sphinx moth larvae, or caterpillars. Catalpa trees and Catawba worms have what most consider a mutually beneficial relationship. The Catalpa tree’s foliage is the worms’ only food source, and the worms’ dung fertilizes the soil surrounding the tree. Catawba worms are also a popular worm to use for fishing bait, which is why some people plant Catalpa trees in the first place. They are fishermen (or fisherwomen) who want Catawba worms at easy access to use as bait.
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Catawba worms only enjoy the foliage of healthy Catalpa trees, but our reader has insisted that her tree is healthy, so the Catawba worms should show up eventually. There are a few different explanations on why this has not yet occurred. One possibility is that the eggs have been laid, but they haven’t yet hatched. Also, since these creatures emerge based on weather patterns, its possible that they are displeased with the current climate conditions. If our reader experienced a long and/or harsh winter, this could delay the emergence of Catawba worms. Catawba worms also have natural predators that can wipe out a population pretty quickly. However, it sounds like our reader has never had the worms on her tree since its been in her yard, so this is probably not the issue.
To wrap up, we aren’t sure why our reader’s Catalpa tree isn’t currently serving as a home to any Catawba worms. The reason could lie in predators, weather patterns, or an ailing tree. We assume that when this tree was in her grandfather’s yard it had worms living in it. If there are other inhabited Catalpa trees in his yard still, she could try to implant a small population of those Catawba worms onto her own tree. The best advice we have for our reader is to be patient! If any readers have dealt with Catalpa trees and the presence, or lack thereof, of Catawba worms, please feel free to comment on this article!
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