We recently received this message from a reader, “I have not had Catawba worms on my trees for 5 years. Is there anything I can do to get them back?” Before we speculate on why our reader’s tree is worm-less, we will provide some background information on catawba worms!
Catawba worms, or Catalpa worms (Catawba and Catalpa are interchangeable words), are actually caterpillars not worms. They are the larvae of the sphinx moth. Catawba worms and Catawba trees (or Catalpa trees), have a mutually beneficial relationship. The foliage of a Catawba tree is the only food source for the Catawba worms, so the caterpillars need the trees to eat and survive. On the other hand, the dung of the Catawba worms fertilizes the soil around the tree to help it grow and stay healthy, so the trees need the caterpillars!
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The relationship between Catawba trees and Catawba worms is well known. Some people even plant Catawba trees in the hopes that the trees will attract Catawba worms. Catawba worms are a popular choice for fishing bait, so many people plant the trees to have easy access to bait.
So, why are there no Catawba worms on our reader’s Catawba trees? We don’t know for sure, but we can provide some potential answers. First, Catawba worms only eat the foliage of healthy Catawba trees. Perhaps her trees are declining in health and are no longer appetizing to the caterpillars. Also, Catawba worms emerge based on weather patterns. It is possible that the climate has shifted and now her trees are unsuitable for the Catawba worms. Finally, like all creatures, Catawba worms have natural predators. If the caterpillar population was wiped out one year by a predator, that could explain why there are no more Catawba worms. We aren’t aware of any guaranteed ways to get the caterpillars back.
To summarize, a reader wants to know why there are no Catawba worms on her Catawba trees. We have provided a few potential answers, but if other readers have ideas about these caterpillars we encourage them to share them below!
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