Ornamental & Turf Insect Note Logo

CATERPILLARS THAT FEED ON TREES AND SHRUBS

Steven D. Frank & S. B. Bambara, Extension Entomologists

CAUTION: This information was developed for North Carolina and may not apply to other areas.


General Information

There are over 1400 kinds of moths and butterflies in North Carolina. Some of these lay eggs from which hatch destructive caterpillars that feed on our trees and shrubs.

The moths and butterflies (adults) cannot do any damage to plants themselves. The following caterpillars are commonly reported from ornamental plants. Not all occur in high numbers to be considered pests.  Learn more about the species of your interest before applying pesticides.
 

  • Bagworm - mostly evergreen 
  • Birch skeletonizer - birch 
  • Cankerworm - elm, maple, oak, etc. 
  • Catalpa sphinx - catalpa 
  • Cecropia moth - many trees 
  • Eastern tent caterpillar - cherry, apple 
  • Fall webworm -pecan, sourwood, persimmon,etc. 
  • Forest tent caterpillar - maple, oak, poplar
  • Giant Swallowtail- Hercules club, prickley ash, citrus  
  • Greenstriped mapleworm - maple, oak, etc
  • Hemlock looper - hemlock 
  • Hickory horned devil (Regal Moth)- hickory,    walnut and others
  • Imperial moth - many trees 
  • Io moth - various trees and shrubs 
  • Juniper webworm -junipers 
  • Luna moth - many forest & shade trees 
  • Pinkstriped oakworm - oak 
  • Polyphemus moth - many trees 
  • Poplar tentmaker - poplar, willow 
  • Promethea moth - many trees 
  • Redhumped caterpillar - cherry, dogwood 
  • Redhumped oakworm - oak, elm, etc. 
  • Saddled prominent - maple, beech, etc. 
  • Spiny oakworm - oak 
  • Stinging caterpillars - oak, many others 
  • Uglynest caterpillar - cherry, etc. 
  • Walnut caterpillar - pecan, walnut, etc. 
  • Yellownecked caterpillar - hickory, oak 
  • azalea caterpillar dusky birch sawfly larva
    green striped mapelworm greeenstriped mapleworm
    swallowtail larva abbots sphinx caterpillar
    orangestriped oakworm puss caterpillar
    paddle caterpillar hackberry leaf slug caterpillar

    Sawflies in the larval stage look very much like moth caterpillars. They may cause severe defoliation. Sawflies belong in the group of insects which includes ants, bees, and wasps.

    Control

    walnut caterpillarsThe single attack of a leaf-feeding insect will seldom kill a healthy tree or shrub. Repeated defoliations, however, may weaken and make them susceptible to destruction by other insects, diseases, severe cold weather, drought, etc. Most of those listed above are not a serious threat.

    Try to identify the specific insect before taking control measures. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can help. Further information about some of the more serious caterpillar pests is contained in other specific insect pest notes.

    The following pesticides are labeled for "caterpillars". Other pesticides may be labeled for certain types of caterpillars such as armyworms, bagworms, cankerworms, webworms. Some pesticides are labeled for specific caterpillars such as yellownecked caterpillars or eastern tent caterpillars.

    A complete list of all such pesticides and all of their target pests is too long for this insect note. The North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual has a more complete list of pesticides and target pests. Bacterial insecticides such as B.t. are useful when caterpillars are still small.
     

    Active ingredient

    Trade name

    Labeled sites

    Signal word

    IRAC MOA group

    Compatible with beneficials

    acephate

    *Orthene

    L, A

    Caution

    1B

    No

    acetamiprid

    TriStar

    G, N, L

    Caution

    4A

    Yes

    azadirachtin

    Azatin

    L

    Caution

    18B

    Yes

    Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.)

    *Dipel, others

    G, N, L

    Caution

    11B2

    Yes

    Beauveria bassiana

    Naturalis

    G, N, L

    Caution

    M

    Yes

    bifenthrin

    Talstar

    G, N, L, I

    Caution

    3

    No

    bifenthrin

    Onyx

    L, I

    Caution

    3

    No

    carbaryl
    *Sevin
    N,L
    Caution
    1A
    No

    chlorfenapyr

    Pylon

    G

    Caution

    13

    Yes

    chlorantraniliprole

    Acelepryn

    L, I

    none

    28

    Yes

    cyfluthrin

    Decathlon

    G, N

    Caution

    3

    No

    fenpropathrin

    Tame

    G, N, L, I

    Caution

    3

    No

    spinosad

    Conserve, Entrust, *Fertilome, *Greenlight

    G, N

    Caution

    5

    Yes

    tebufenozide

    Confirm

    N, L

    Caution

    18A

    Yes

    *Suitable for home use.  G=greenhouse, L=landscape, N=nursery, I=interiorscape.

    Interesting Links: Using Wasps to Control Caterpillars


    Other Resources

    For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service personnel.


    Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

    Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

    © 2001 NC Cooperative Extension Service

    Prepared by: James R. Baker & S. B. Bambara, Extension Entomologists

    ENT/ort-07   April 1994 (Revised) March 1997, July 2009 by Steven Frank  

    Web page last reviewed January, 2010 by the webperson.