They may look cute and furry, and seeing just a few doesn't present much of a problem, but these invasive caterpillars can be destructive and nasty, and an outbreak of them last summer caused noticeable tree and leaf damage in the parts of Upstate New York they invaded.  And this Spring, they seem to be everywhere!

They're called spongy moth caterpillars, and according to the DEC, "populations rise and fall in cycles of roughly 10-15 years."

The DEC notes that during some years, the damage to trees is minor damage, but large numbers of caterpillars (like many are reporting in parts of Upstate, NY) can cause very noticeable leaf damage and tree defoliation.

They mainly feed on Oak trees according to the DEC, but in New York, spongy moth caterpillars are known to feed on the leaves of a large variety of trees such as maple, apple, crabapple, hickory, basswood, aspen, willow, birch, pine, spruce, hemlock, and more.

Tree death can occur when other stresses such as disease or other insect outbreaks attack trees in the same year. -NYS DEC

A Facebook post by a woman who lives in Saratoga County showed what appeared to be dozens (if not more) crawling all over a fence and on the ground in a dog park she says is near SPAC.

Brianne Martino posted this image to the Facebook group "What's Going on Saratoga?" a few days ago and the reaction was mainly unanimous; kill them before they ruin more trees.

Photo Brianne Martino Facebook
Spongy Moth Caterpillar Invades Saratoga County Dog Park - "What's Going on Saratoga?" Facebook

The NYS DEC agrees and on their website, they inform people about what to do during a seasonal infestation.

"When populations are low, or when you have just a few trees you want to protect, spongy moth caterpillars and adults can be killed by squishing them," according to the DEC.  They add that some "egg masses can be destroyed by scraping them off trees or other structures and dropping them in a container of detergent."

How do you get rid of a large gathering of spongy moth caterpillars?

The DEC says that in mid-June when the caterpillars are at their largest, a burlap trap can be placed around infested trees.  For a tutorial on how to properly do so, click here.

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