DEM warns: Very hungry caterpillars hatching soon

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is warning plant owners to start guarding against the caterpillars that are set to sprout from winter moth eggs.

As temperatures increase and the eggs hatch, the caterpillars will burrow into scores of plant buds and feed on forming leaves and flowers, making them look like they’ve been hit with buckshot. The winter moth caterpillars prefer oak, maple, ash, basswood, elm, beech, apple and pear trees, blueberry shrubs, and roses.

“We are having people contact arborists and pesticide applicators to get ready for the winter moth outbreak,” said Bruce Payton of the DEM Division of Forest Management.

The caterpillars will continue feeding into late May and early June.

Winter Moth (Photo: Nancy Krause)
Winter Moth (Photo: Nancy Krause)

“Last spring DEM received hundreds of reports from concerned residents asking what could be done to save their precious trees,” said Paul Ricard, the forest health program manager for the DEM’s Division of Forest Environment.

If a tree is defoliated, or has had its leaves eaten away, it’ll need a lot of water to try and grow them back.

In previous years, the DEM released a “parasitoid” fly that feeds on winter moths, but expected it will take several years before the flies make a dent in the population.

“If you saw [the moths] last fall, you are probably going to have the insect crawling around this spring,” Payton said.