A few days ago, we received the following question: “What kind of worms will strip trees and climb walls?” The reader gave no indication that she has seen the worm she was asking about, and in fact it isn’t clear she has any involvement with the tree-stripping, wall-climbing worms. In other words, we don’t know if the worms are stripping her trees and climbing her walls, or if she has merely heard of creatures that do this, and wants to know what these creatures are. We’ll therefore have to focus on the general matter of worms that climb walls and strip trees, and not say anything specific to our reader’s situation, and perhaps she has no worm situation to speak of anyway.
We’ll begin by saying that it is a bit unclear what exactly our reader means by “strip trees.” There seems to be at least a couple of ways that a tree could be said to be “stripped” by a worm or worm-like creature. This might mean that the tree’s leaves have been stripped, and if this is the case, there are a number of caterpillars that do this, including one we just recently wrote about, Catawba worms. Tent caterpillars, of which there are several species, also defoliate trees, but we single out tent caterpillars only because they are common. Many other caterpillars strip trees of their leaves by eating them. In general, caterpillars shouldn’t have much trouble climbing walls thanks to their legs and prolegs. The prolegs, in addition to helping caterpillars hold on to things like branches, also have small grasping hooks, which help them climb vertical surfaces. If our reader meant “strip the tree’s leaves” by “strip trees,” then she is curious about a variety of different caterpillars.
We are leaning toward this interpretation of “strip trees” because it makes the most sense in this context, but we know of at least one other creature that strips trees – the twig girdler, the larval form of a species of beetle (Oncideres pustulatus) – in the sense that it takes off their branches. More specifically, a twig girdler chews a circle around a tree limb and then lays its eggs in this newly created groove. Eventually, the limb will die and fall off the tree. This is clearly a slow process, and overall the tree isn’t stripped much because the twig girdlers, as their name implies, only go after small limbs, but we suppose this is a form of tree stripping as well.
We should note that none of the creatures we have mentioned are actually worms. Some really loose definitions of the word “worm” include caterpillars and insect larvae, but this strikes us as needlessly broad usage, as larvae only temporarily go through a “worm-like” stage. For instance, caterpillars turn into butterflies and moths, and butterflies and moths are hardly worms. Thus, the “worms” our reader is inquiring about would seem to be larvae – either caterpillars or some other larval form of an insect. Although worms can occasionally be spotted climbing walls, especially after it rains, we know of no type of worm that would in any sense strip a tree. Caterpillars strip trees to feed their voracious appetites and twig girdlers do it to lay eggs, but worms live and feed in the soil, and they mate on the ground, so stripping a tree isn’t something they would have any purpose in doing.
So, we can’t give our reader a very precise answer to her question, but that’s only because there are lots of creatures that can climb walls and strip trees. We presume she is asking about some sort of caterpillar, but she might be after some other sort of larva as well. That, however, is all we can say.
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