Are those spider webs in my pecan tree?

April Killian

Where there's a web, there's a spider, right? Normally, yes - but those huge clumps of spooky looking cobwebs that appear in your pecan trees in late summer to early fall, are not made by spiders at all....and contrary to what my neighbors may think, they're not left over halloween decorations from last fall....although I have been known to be that "one" house on the street. So, what are those globs of webs that seemingly appear overnight? And not just in pecan trees, either... they often appear in Persimmon trees and other hardwood trees. Give up? Think you know? The answer may surprise you. Read the full story below to find the answer!
Webs in pecan treeApril Killian

If you examine one of the webbed clusters closely, you'll see small little "worms" inside. But wait...WORMS? Since when do worms make webs?!!! Silk worms? Maybe - but these aren't silkworms that are native to Asia. When worms weave webs in North America in August to October, they're actually "fall webworms." That's exactly what is responsible for the big clusters of webs seen often in pecan trees and other hardwood trees. But they're not really "worms" at all.

The "fall webworm," scientifically known as Hyphantria cunea, is actually the caterpillar of the common fall webworm moth in it's larvae stage. So, they're actually little baby caterpillars. The mama, the webworm moth, is native to all of North America and very common. She lays her eggs at the end of summer in a small "fuzzy" cluster on the underside of leaves toward the ends of a branch. One moth can lay hundreds of eggs! The eggs hatch about a week later into small larvae that then begin immediately to weave the huge web formations we see that protect them from predators in this early, vulnerable phase. With hundreds of larvae hatching at once and working together to produce a web "tent," that's how these big web clusters appear seemingly overnight.

Then the larvae, as they grow, wiggle and wander, do what all baby caterpillars do and proceed eat all the leaves inside their safe webbed environment. Although they consume most of the leaves inside their webs, experts say they are not destructive nor cause enough damage to harm a healthy tree.
Fall WebwormsApril Killian

An interesting behavior of the larvae inside the web and a scientific mystery: in the four to six weeks they spend inside their webs, they have been observed wiggling and jiggling in complete synchrony. Not just inside one web, mind you, but synchronized movement at various intervals across wide areas. How or why they do this is yet to be discovered. Personally, I like to imagine they are just breaking out in dance sort of like a "flash mob" at the local food court in the mall. Maybe we should call them "boogie worms" rather than "webworms??"

So, after their dancing and eating season is over, they enter the pupa stage. They'll spend the whole next winter in this stage wrapped up in self made silky brown cocoons at the base of the tree in fallen leaves or sometimes fallen bits of bark. In the spring, they'll hatch into moths, mate in the summer, and then lay the eggs that start the whole process over again.

So, there you have it in a nutshell (since we're on the subject of pecan trees, after all). Those big spooky looking webs in your pecan tre or other hardwood trees aren't spider webs at all - which may come as a relief to those of us who hate the thought of spiders dangling from trees - but they're just a group of baby caterpillars eating away, doing the occasional synchronized dance, waiting for their own chance to grow their wings and be a part of the big cycle of life.
Fall webworm moth

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April Killian is a native of Florence, Alabama and writes about her home state of Alabama and the Shoals area. She is the mom of many pets and 3 adult children. Along with writing, she sells vintage items online and conducts estate sales in her area. She is a lifelong supporter of charity work, loves life, and tries to be a positive force in this world in everything she does! Her writing passions include: family and social issues, nature, humor, the paranormal and anything interesting or weird! Click on "follow" to see more of her articles in the future!

Florence, AL

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