Chicago, IL

Some Oak Trees in Elgin Besieged by Caterpillars

Sherry McGuinn

They're cute, fuzzy...and hungry

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If you have oak trees on your property, especially of the white and chestnut variety and their leaves appear scarce, you might have an "issue" with gypsy moths. In fact, this year, their numbers are legion.

According to Davey, a local tree and shrub expert, their eggs hatch in late April to early May and they begin feeding on new leaves that are emerging at the same time.

Yesterday, as I was taking a walk through our neighborhood, a neighbor called me over to check out one of his trees. It was literally covered with caterpillars trying to make their way back up to the branches so they could feed. He pointed out the tree's leaves, most of which had been gobbled up.

More "good" news: Their excrement "rains" out of the trees with a "pitter-patter-like" sound and as they devour the leaves, the caterpillars can be heard munching away. Not something you want to listen to you as you relax on your deck or patio.

Half-eaten leaves do not necessarily mean the tree is going to die. In fact, quite the contrary, but you may not get the glorious fall colors if the leaves are scarce.

These pests are not dangerous to humans in any way. They're not poisonous, nor do they bite. Depending upon how you feel about caterpillars, they are a bit creepy to watch as they swarm in and out of crevices in tree trunks.

Probably, the best course of action is to leave them alone or to call a tree and shrub service to come out and assess the damage. Services like Davey offer free consultations and will spray, if necessary.

One DIY method is to use a broom and sweep them into a pail of soapy water, which will kill the fuzzy beasts.

Even though a one-time infestation of these pests won't likely do any long-term harm, if you're unfortunate enough to get a repeat performance say, next year, your trees could weaken and die.

When in doubt, consult with an expert. And, thanks for reading.

© Sherry McGuinn, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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