Caterpillars, Aphids, and (Dead) Flies – Oh My!
- Bedstraw or Galium Sphinx: Hyles gallii is a native insect in the Family Sphingidae (sphinx moths) whose caterpillars are sometimes also referred to as hornworms. This particular hornworm develops into the bedstraw, or galium, sphinx and is commonly found in fields from northern Canada to Virginia and Iowa. Mature caterpillars, such as the one pictured here, are known from August to October, preceded by the adult moths that fly from roughly June to August. Common food plants for the caterpillars include bedstraw, fireweed, and certain plants in the primrose family. Striking caterpillars may be found in hay fields and other open areas and are commonly encountered in the late summer, wandering across roads and driveways. Caterpillars are highly variable in color and appearance, ranging from green to brown to black with a bright red or black horn. Adult moths are known pollinators.
- Entomophthora muscae: is a naturally occurring, entomopathogenic (insect killing) fungus that is a well-known disease-causing organism of adult Diptera (true flies). E. muscae has been long recognized as a potential biological control agent, and is known to kill house flies, blow flies, flesh flies, mosquitoes, and others including some species found in families known to include beneficial insects (ex. parasitic tachinid flies and hover flies). Epizootics of this fungus tend to occur in the spring or fall in temperate regions and spores develop during periods of cool, humid or wet conditions in areas with an abundance of hosts. Fly cadavers are frequently seen attached to leaves, near the edges of fields, on fencing, or other structures.
- Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillars: Euchaetes egle adult moths lay their eggs on milkweed sometime in June, then tiny, dull, yellowish larvae hatch and feed in groups on the undersides of milkweed leaves. These caterpillars grow and eventually develop the beautiful, tufted, black, white, and orange hairs once they mature. Mature caterpillars will wander to find a suitable location to spin their cocoons, where they will remain until the following spring. Adult female moths will lay their eggs and start the cycle over again in June. This is a native insect, and while it is sometimes viewed as a competitor with the beloved monarch (Danaus plexippus), it should still be valued and preserved.
- Oleander Aphids: Aphis nerii is a non-native insect that feeds on a variety of host plants, including those in the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) and the genera Vinca and Asclepias. Common milkweed, butterfly weed, and tropical milkweed are included in their favored hosts. All individuals of this species are female, and reproduce via parthenogenesis (without males). This aids them in being able to reproduce rapidly and build to impressive populations. They also enjoy protection from predators as they sequester toxins from the sap of their oleander and milkweed meals. Their bright yellow coloration is a warning signal to would-be predators. That said, some lacewings, syrphid fly larvae, and even lady beetle adults and larvae are able to feed upon these aphids. A parasitoid wasp will also utilize oleander aphids as its host, leaving behind bloated and browned aphid “mummies”. For those worried about the impact of oleander aphids on milkweed they wish to feed monarchs with, beware of unintended consequences to the monarchs when trying to manage the aphids. It may be best to have patience and to allow the parasitoid wasp and beneficial predators to aid in management.
- (Return of the) Woolly Apple Aphid: Eriosoma lanigerum may be found on apple, crabapple, hawthorn, mountain-ash, Pyracantha, and elm hosts. The primary (winter) host is elm, on which aphids infest emerging spring leaves, causing leaves to curl or close into stunted, rosette-like clusters found at twig tips. On apple, crabapple, and hawthorn, this species of aphid colonizes roots, trunks, and branches in the summer and is commonly found near previous wounds or callous tissue. On roots, the aphids cause swelled areas which can girdle and kill the roots. The aphids, when found in above ground plant parts such as elm leaves, are covered with white wax. Eggs are the overwintering stage on elm, which hatch in the spring in time for the nymphs to infest new elm foliage. Following a few generations on elm, the aphids will develop into a winged form, which will disperse and seek out apple, crabapple, and hawthorn. Multiple generations will occur on these alternate hosts in the summer and by the fall, a winged form will return to elm and mated females will lay eggs near elm buds. These aphids are a favorite snack for insect predators such as the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis.
Insects and Other Arthropods of Medical Importance:
- Mosquitoes: Seven human cases of WNV have been detected in 2021 in Bristol, Essex, and Middlesex Counties, according to the MA Department of Public Health. WNV positive mosquito samples have been identified in Barnstable, Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester Counties. WNV risk levels have increased to High for communities Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk Counties due to increasing WNV activity. Please view the risk maps available here for updates: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-arbovirus-update
According to the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Science and the Department of Public Health, there are at least 51 different species of mosquito found in Massachusetts. Mosquitoes belong to the Order Diptera (true flies) and the Family Culicidae (mosquitoes). As such, they undergo complete metamorphosis, and possess four major life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Adult mosquitoes are the only stage that flies and many female mosquitoes only live for 2 weeks (although the life cycle and timing will depend upon the species). Only female mosquitoes bite to take a blood meal, and this is so they can make eggs. Mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs in, so they are often found in wet or damp locations and around plants. Different species prefer different habitats. It is possible to be bitten by a mosquito at any time of the day, and again timing depends upon the species. Many are particularly active from just before dusk, through the night, and until dawn. Mosquito bites are not only itchy and annoying, but they can be associated with greater health risks. Certain mosquitoes vector pathogens that cause diseases such as West Nile virus (WNV) and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE).
For more information about mosquitoes in Massachusetts, visit: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/mosquitoes-in-massachusetts .
There are ways to protect yourself against mosquitoes, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, keeping mosquitoes outside by using tight-fitting window and door screens, and using insect repellents as directed. Products containing the active ingredients DEET, permethrin, IR3535, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus provide protection against mosquitoes.
For more information about mosquito repellents, visit: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/mosquito-repellents and https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/mosquito-bites/prevent-mosquito-bites.html .
*Ixodes scapularis - We are now in the time of year when deer tick larvae and nymphs are frequently encountered. Larvae may be encountered in April, but in some locations may peak in their activity in August, while still being encountered through November. Nymphs are encountered from April through July, peaking in June. Nymphs are again present in October and November. For images of all deer tick life stages, along with an outline of the diseases they carry, and their timing of activity, visit: http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification/deer_tick .
Anyone working in the yard and garden should be aware that there is the potential to encounter deer ticks. The deer tick or blacklegged tick can transmit Lyme disease, human babesiosis, human anaplasmosis, and other diseases. Preventative activities, such as daily tick checks, wearing appropriate clothing, and permethrin treatments for clothing (according to label instructions) can aid in reducing the risk that a tick will become attached to your body. If a tick cannot attach and feed, it will not transmit disease. For more information about personal protective measures, visit: http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/protect_yourself .
The Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment provides a list of potential tick identification and testing resources here: https://ag.umass.edu/resources/tick-testing-resources .
*Note that deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are not the only disease-causing tick species found in Massachusetts. The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) are also found throughout MA. Each can carry their own complement of diseases, including others not mentioned above. Anyone working or playing in tick habitats (wood-line areas, forested areas, and landscaped areas with ground cover) should check themselves regularly for ticks while practicing preventative measures.
- Wasps/Hornets: Many wasps are predators of other arthropods, including pest insects such as certain caterpillars that feed on trees and shrubs. Adult wasps hunt prey and bring it back to their nest where young are being reared, as food for the immature wasps. A common such example are the paper wasps (Polistes spp.) who rear their young on chewed up insects. They may be seen searching plants for caterpillars and other soft-bodied larvae to feed their young. Paper wasps can sting, and will defend their nests, which are open-celled paper nests that are not covered with a papery “envelope”. These open-celled nests may be seen hanging from eaves or other outdoor building structures, however these insects sometimes find the most interesting locations to construct their nests. These photos taken on 8/15/2021 show a paper wasp nest that was located at the end of a cannon at a town memorial park in Hampshire County, MA. So expect these nests in the oddest of locations to avoid being stung! Aerial yellow jackets and hornets create large aerial nests that are covered with a papery shell or “envelope”. Common yellow jacket species include those in the genus Vespula. Dolichovespula maculata is commonly known as the baldfaced hornet, although it is not a true hornet. The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is three times the size of a yellow jacket and may be confused for the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia). The European hornet is known to Massachusetts, but the Asian giant hornet is not. If you are concerned that you have found or photographed an Asian giant hornet, please report it here: https://massnrc.org/pests/report.aspx . Paper wasps and aerial yellowjackets overwinter as fertilized females (queens) and a single female produces a new nest annually in the late spring. Nests are abandoned at the end of the season. Queens start new nests, lay eggs, and rear new wasps to assist in colony/nest development.Some people are allergic to stinging insects, so care should be taken around wasp/hornet nests. Unlike the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), wasps and hornets do not have barbed stingers, and therefore can sting repeatedly when defending their nests. It is best to avoid their nests, and if that cannot be done and assistance is needed to remove them, consult a professional.
Woody ornamental insect and non-insect arthropod pests to consider, a selected few:
Invasive Insects & Other Organisms Update:
- Box Tree Moth: Cydalima perspectalis is native to East Asia. It has become a serious invasive pest in Europe, where it continues to spread. The caterpillars feed mostly on boxwood, and heavy infestations can defoliate host plants. Once the leaves are gone, larvae consume the bark, leading to girdling and plant death. The box tree moth is not currently known to be established in Massachusetts, however the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is urging professionals and citizens to report any suspicious insects.
To report suspected box tree moth life stages or damage to boxwood in Massachusetts, please visit: https://massnrc.org/pests/pestreports.htm .
Females lay eggs singly or in clusters of 5 to more than 20 eggs in a gelatinous mass on the underside of boxwood leaves. Most females deposit more than 42 egg masses in their lifetime. They typically hatch within 4 to 6 days. Pupae typically first appear in April or May and are present continuously through the summer and into the fall, depending on the local climate and timing of generations. Adults first emerge from the overwintering generation between April and July, depending on climate and temperature. Subsequent generations are active between June and October. Adults typically live for two weeks after emergence. The exact timing of the life cycle of this insect in Massachusetts is not currently known.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) recently reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of box tree moth in the continental United States and is taking action alongside state partners and industry to contain and eradicate the invasive pest that was imported on nursery plants shipped from Ontario, Canada. For a recent press release regarding this insect from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources, visit: https://www.mass.gov/news/state-agricultural-officials-urge-public-to-inspect-boxwood-shrubs-for-box-tree-moths .
Between August 2020 and April 2021, a nursery in St. Catharines, Ontario shipped boxwood (Buxus species) that may have been infested with box tree moth to locations in six states—25 retail facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina—and a distribution center in Tennessee. At this time, the pest has been identified in three facilities in Michigan, one in Connecticut, and one in South Carolina, and APHIS is working with state plant regulatory officials to determine whether other facilities may be impacted. For more information, visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2021/sa-05/box-tree-moth .
- Spotted Lanternfly: (Lycorma delicatula, SLF) is not known to be established in Massachusetts landscapes at this time. However, due to the great ability of this insect to hitchhike using human-aided movement, it is important that we remain vigilant in Massachusetts and report any suspicious findings. Spotted lanternfly reports can be sent here: https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx .
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has recently released spotted lanternfly Best Management Practices for Nurseries and Landscapers: https://massnrc.org/pests/linkeddocuments/MANurseryBMPs.pdf
And Best Management Practices for Moving Companies and the Moving Industry: https://massnrc.org/pests/linkeddocuments/SLFChecklistMovingIndustryMA.pdf
Now is a great time to provide copies of these BMP’s to employees, customers, family, and friends! The more eyes we have out there looking for spotted lanternfly, the better. Use the above BMP’s as a guide to help you inspect certain items coming from CT, DE, MD, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, WV, and VA.
UMass Extension is teaming up with UMass Amherst’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the USDA APHIS, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to monitor for the spotted lanternfly in Massachusetts. A team including members of UMass Extension’s Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program, Extension’s Fruit Program, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass, Amherst are undertaking a nine-month integrated research and extension project to develop effective tools to detect the spotted lanternfly.
The researchers associated with this project (Dr. Joseph Elkinton, Dr. Jeremy Andersen and Dr. Jaime Pinero) will be working with Dr. Miriam Cooperband of the USDA APHIS lab on Cape Cod to identify and evaluate airborne attractants that can improve the ability to detect SLF in traps. Dr. Cooperband has identified several attractant lures released from host plants of SLF. She is currently working on pheromones produced by SLF that may be much more attractive. The UMass team will help her conduct field tests of these new lures, while also assisting the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) in monitoring for SLF in Massachusetts. UMass Extension Entomologist, Tawny Simisky, will periodically report on progress made during the course of this project. For more information, please visit: https://ag.umass.edu/cafe/news/looking-for-spotted-lanternfly-recent-invasive-arrival .
This insect is a member of the Order Hemiptera (true bugs, cicadas, hoppers, aphids, and others) and the Family Fulgoridae, also known as planthoppers. The spotted lanternfly is a non-native species first detected in the United States in Berks County, Pennsylvania and confirmed on September 22, 2014.
For a map of known, established populations of SLF as well as detections outside of these areas where individual finds of spotted lanternfly have occurred (but no infestations are present), visit: https://nysipm.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-species-exotic-pests/spotted-lanternfly/ .
The spotted lanternfly is considered native to China, India, and Vietnam. It has been introduced as a non-native insect to South Korea and Japan, prior to its detection in the United States. In South Korea, it is considered invasive and a pest of grapes and peaches. The spotted lanternfly has been reported feeding on over 103 species of plants, according to new research (Barringer and Ciafré, 2020) and when including not only plants on which the insect feeds, but those that it will lay egg masses on, this number rises to 172. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) (preferred host), apple (Malus spp.), plum, cherry, peach, apricot (Prunus spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), pine (Pinus spp.), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), white ash (Fraxinus americana), willow (Salix spp.), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American linden (Tilia americana), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), big-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata), black birch (Betula lenta), black cherry (Prunus serotina), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), black walnut (Juglans nigra), dogwood (Cornus spp.), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), and paper birch (Betula papyrifera).
The adults and immatures of this species damage host plants by feeding on sap from stems, leaves, and the trunks of trees. In the springtime in Pennsylvania (late April - mid-May) nymphs (immatures) are found on smaller plants and vines and new growth of trees and shrubs. Third and fourth instar nymphs migrate to the tree of heaven and are observed feeding on trunks and branches. Trees may be found with sap weeping from the wounds caused by the insect’s feeding. The sugary secretions (excrement) created by this insect may coat the host plant, later leading to the growth of sooty mold. Insects such as wasps, hornets, bees, and ants may also be attracted to the sugary waste created by the lanternflies, or sap weeping from open wounds in the host plant. Host plants have been described as giving off a fermented odor when this insect is present.
Adults are present by the middle of July in Pennsylvania and begin laying eggs by late September and continue laying eggs through late November and even early December in that state. Adults may be found on the trunks of trees such as the tree of heaven or other host plants growing in close proximity to them. Egg masses of this insect are gray in color and look similar in some ways to gypsy moth egg masses.
Host plants, bricks, stone, lawn furniture, recreational vehicles, and other smooth surfaces can be inspected for egg masses. Egg masses laid on outdoor residential items such as those listed above may pose the greatest threat for spreading this insect via human aided movement.
For more information about the spotted lanternfly, visit this fact sheet: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/spotted-lanternfly .
- Emerald Ash Borer: (Agrilus planipennis, EAB) in 2021 alone, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has confirmed at least 28 new community detections of emerald ash borer in Massachusetts. To date, 11 out of the 14 counties in Massachusetts have confirmed emerald ash borer. (The remaining counties where EAB has yet to be detected are Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties.) A map of these locations and others previously known across the state may be found here: https://ag.umass.edu/fact-sheets/emerald-ash-borer.
This wood-boring beetle readily attacks ash (Fraxinus spp.) including white, green, and black ash and has also been found developing in white fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and has been reported in cultivated olive (Olea europaea). Signs of an EAB infested tree may include D-shaped exit holes in the bark (from adult emergence), “blonding” or lighter coloration of the ash bark from woodpecker feeding (chipping away of the bark as they search for larvae beneath), and serpentine galleries visible through splits in the bark, from larval feeding beneath. It is interesting to note that woodpeckers are capable of eating 30-95% of the emerald ash borer larvae found in a single tree (Murphy et al. 2018). Unfortunately, despite high predation rates, EAB populations continue to grow.
For further information about this insect, please visit: https://ag.umass.edu/fact-sheets/emerald-ash-borer . If you believe you have located EAB-infested ash trees, particularly in an area of Massachusetts not identified on the map provided, please report here: https://massnrc.org/pests/eabreport.htm .
- Lymantria dispar: (Formerly Gypsy Moth; LD) Professionals working in parts of Berkshire County (ex. Alford, Great Barrington, Richmond, Sheffield, South Egremont, and Williamstown) as well as NY and CT report being deluged with questions from property owners looking to manage Lymantria dispar caterpillars in 2022 following expanding populations of this insect in those areas this season. Here is some information to help with those discussions:
In high populations of Lymantria dispar (formerly gypsy moth), scraping egg masses can be a futile effort. When populations are high, caterpillars can blow in from surrounding forested areas onto your property (next spring) even after an egg mass scraping effort is undertaken. Additionally, on large trees, female moths can lay their egg masses in areas that are not practical/safe to reach. However, if you do try to remove egg masses from high value specimen trees this fall and winter, be sure to scrape them into a can of soapy water. If scraped onto the ground, they may still hatch next spring.
A good plan would be to have an arborist come monitor the property and surrounding area this fall/winter once Lymantria dispar females are completely done laying eggs. (Additional egg mass survey information will also be available for Massachusetts through the Department of Conservation and Recreation once surveys are complete for 2021, here: ( https://www.mass.gov/guides/lymantria-dispar-gypsy-moth-in-massachusetts ). If there are large numbers of egg masses on your property and in the woods nearby, consider applying reduced risk insecticides next spring to protect high-value specimen trees from defoliation next year, especially if they could become hazardous if they were to decline. (Ex. trees near the home, garage, etc.) Applications would be made following 90-100 GDD's, after eggs have hatched, and caterpillars have settled to feed. Egg hatch begins roughly around the first week in May in MA, however this timing may depend upon spring temperatures. Special care should also be taken to protect trees that were defoliated this year, as two consecutive years of defoliation are often very stressful even for mature trees. Young trees/new plantings should be protected as well.
After caterpillars hatch, and once they settle to begin feeding (when they are approximately 3/4 inch in length or less), they are very susceptible to applications of the reduced risk insecticide known as Bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki. This is a soil dwelling bacterium that is lethal to the caterpillars if they ingest it on the leaves. Another reduced risk option is the active ingredient spinosad (also derived from a soil dwelling bacterium). Spinosad should not be applied to plants in bloom, as it is toxic to pollinators - but that toxicity goes away once the product dries (in about 3 hours). Chlorantraniliprole is another reduced risk active ingredient that can be applied to the leaves of susceptible hosts when caterpillars are young and just beginning to feed.
The efficacy of systemic insecticides for the management of Lymantria dispar is not entirely understood. However, products containing azadirachtin, abamectin, or acephate are labelled for use against this insect. Of those, azadirachtin is a reduced risk insecticide. With regard to acephate, some research suggests that it is more effective at managing caterpillars feeding on smaller diameter trees than on larger trees (Dan Herms, Personal Communication).
LD moth has been in Massachusetts since the 1860's. This invasive insect from Europe often goes unnoticed, thanks to population regulation provided by the entomopathogenic fungus, E. maimaiga, as well as a NPV virus specific to LD moth caterpillars. (And to a lesser extent many other organisms, including other insects, small mammals, and birds who feed on LD moth.) However, if environmental conditions do not favor the life cycle of the fungus, outbreaks of LD moth caterpillars are possible. (Such as most recently from 2015-2018, with a peak in the LD moth population in 2017 in Massachusetts.)
Check out Episode 1 of InsectXaminer to reminisce about the 2015-2018 outbreak of this insect and learn more about the fungus and the virus and how to recognize caterpillars that have been killed by these pathogens: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/education-events/insectxaminer .
- Asian Longhorned Beetle: (Anoplophora glabripennis, ALB) Look for signs of an ALB infestation which include perfectly round exit holes (about the size of a dime), shallow oval or round scars in the bark where a female has chewed an egg site, or sawdust-like frass (excrement) on the ground nearby host trees or caught in between branches. Be advised that other, native insects may create perfectly round exit holes or sawdust-like frass, which can be confused with signs of ALB activity.
The regulated area for Asian longhorned beetle is 110 miles2 encompassing Worcester, Shrewsbury, Boylston, West Boylston, and parts of Holden and Auburn. If you believe you have seen damage caused by this insect, such as exit holes or egg sites, on susceptible host trees like maple, please call the Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program office in Worcester, MA at 508-852-8090 or toll free at 1-866-702-9938.
To report an Asian longhorned beetle find online or compare it to common insect look-alikes, visit: http://massnrc.org/pests/albreport.aspx or https://www.aphis.usda.gov/pests-diseases/alb/report .
- Jumping Worms: In recent years, public concern about Amynthas spp. earthworms, collectively referred to as “jumping or crazy or snake” worms, has dramatically increased. University researchers and Extension groups in many locations in the US are finding that these species cause not only forest ecosystem disturbances, but may also negatively impact soil structure and reduce plant growth in gardens and managed landscapes. They do this by voraciously devouring the organic layer of the soil while feeding very close to the soil surface, unlike other species of earthworms. In woodland areas, they can quickly eat all of the leaf litter on the forest floor. Jumping worms also leave a distinct grainy soil full of worm castings. The soil becomes granular and may look like dried coffee grounds.
Unfortunately, there are currently no research-based management options available for these earthworms. So prevention is essential – preventing their introduction and spread into new areas is the best defense against them. Adult jumping worms can be 1.5 – 8 inches or more in length. Their clitellum (collar-like ring) is roughly located 1/3 down the length of the worm (from the head) and is smooth and cloudy-white and constricted. These worms may also wiggle or jump when disturbed, and can move across the ground in an S-shape like a snake. While the exact timing of their life cycle in MA might not be completely understood, their life cycle may be expected to go (roughly) something like this: they hatch in the late spring in 1-4 inches of soil, mature into adults during the summer and adults lay eggs sometime in August, and it is thought that their cocoons overwinter. (Adults perish with frost.) It is also worth noting here that jumping worms do not directly harm humans or pets.
For more information, listen to Dr. Olga Kostromytska’s presentation here: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/education-events/invasive-insect-webinars
*NEW*: UMass Extension Fact Sheets:
Earthworms in Massachusetts – History, Concerns, and Benefits: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/earthworms-in-massachusetts-history-concerns-benefits
Jumping/Crazy/Snake Worms – Amynthas spp.:
Suggested reading includes Dr. Kostromytska’s recent “Hot Topics” article in Hort Notes (including an identification guide), here: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/newsletters/hort-notes/hort-notes-2021-vol-323
Additional resources can also be found here:
University of Minnesota Extension: https://extension.umn.edu/identify-invasive-species/jumping-worms
Cornell Cooperative Extension: http://ulster.cce.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-pests/jumping-worm
UNH Extension: https://extension.unh.edu/blog/invasive-spotlight-jumping-worms
Tree & Shrub Insects & Mites:
- Bagworm: Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis is a native species of moth whose larvae construct bag-like coverings over themselves with host plant leaves and twigs. In certain areas across MA in 2020, increased populations of bagworms were observed and reported, particularly in urban forest settings and managed landscapes. More information can be found here: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/bagworm
These caterpillars develop into moths as adults. Their behaviors, life history, and appearance are interesting. The larvae (caterpillars) form “bags” or cases over themselves as they feed using assorted bits of plant foliage and debris tied together with silk. As the caterpillars feed and grow in size, so does their “bag”. Young, early instar caterpillars may feed with their bag oriented skyward, skeletonizing host plant leaves. As these caterpillars grow in size, they may dangle downward from their host plant, and if feeding on a deciduous host, they can consume the leaves down to the leaf veins. Pupation can occur in southern New England in late September or into October and this occurs within the “bag”. Typically, this means that the caterpillars could encounter a killing frost and die before mating could occur. However, in warmer areas of Massachusetts or if we experience a prolonged, warm autumn, it is possible for this insect to overwinter and again become a problem the following season. If the larvae survive to pupation, adult male moths emerge and are winged, able to fly to their flightless female mates. The adult male is blackish in color with transparent wings. The female is worm-like; she lacks eyes, wings, functional legs, or mouthparts. The female never gets the chance to leave the bag she constructs as a larva. The male finds her, mates, and the female moth develops eggs inside her abdomen. These eggs (500-1000) overwinter inside the deceased female, inside her bag, and can hatch roughly around mid-June in southern New England. Like other insects with flightless females, the young larvae can disperse by ballooning (spinning a silken thread and catching the wind to blow them onto a new host). While arborvitae and junipers can be some of the most commonly known host plants for this insect, the bagworm has a broad host range including both deciduous and coniferous hosts numbering over 120 different species. Bagworm has been observed on spruce, Canaan fir, honeylocust, oak, European hornbeam, rose, and London planetree among many others.
This insect can be managed through physical removal, if they can be safely reached. Squeezing them within their bags or gathering them in a bucket full of soapy water (or to crush by some other means) can be effective ways to manage this insect on ornamental plants. Early instar bagworm caterpillars can be managed with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) but this is most effective on young bagworms that are approximately no larger than ¾ inch in length. As bagworms grow in size, they may also have behavioral mechanisms for avoiding chemical management. At this point in the season, physical removal (if possible) may be the best option. This will also preserve any natural enemies that would be found attacking this insect, such as certain parasitic wasps. It is also important to note that the bags from dead bagworms will remain on the host plant, so check the viability of the bagworms by dissecting their bags to avoid unnecessary chemical applications. Historically in Massachusetts, bagworms have been mostly a problem coming in on infested nursery stock. With females laying 500-1000 eggs, if those eggs overwinter the population can grow quite large in a single season on an infested host. Typically this insect becomes a problem on hedgerows or plantings nearby an infested host plant. Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis is found from Massachusetts to Florida, and is typically a more significant pest in southern climates. However, in recent years (2019-2021), bagworm appears to be overwintering in successfully in certain locations in Massachusetts.
- Fall Home-Invading Insects: Various insects, such as ladybugs, boxelder bugs, seedbugs, and stink bugs will begin to seek overwintering shelters in warm places, such as homes, throughout the next couple of months. While such invaders do not cause any measurable structural damage, they can become a nuisance especially when they are present in large numbers. While the invasion has not yet begun, if you are not willing to share your home with such insects, now should be the time to repair torn window screens, repair gaps around windows and doors, and sure up any other gaps through which they might enter the home.
- Fall Webworm: Hyphantria cunea is native to North America and Mexico. It is now considered a world-wide pest, as it has spread throughout much of Europe and Asia. (For example, it was introduced accidentally into Hungary from North America in the 1940’s.) Hosts include nearly all shade, fruit, and ornamental trees except conifers. In the USA, at least 88 species of trees are hosts for these insects, while in Europe at least 230 species are impacted. In the past history of this pest, it was once thought that the fall webworm was a two-species complex. It is now thought that H. cunea has two color morphs – one black headed and one red headed. These two color forms differ not only in the coloration of the caterpillars and the adults, but also in their behaviors. Caterpillars may go through at least 11 molts, each stage occurring within a silken web they produce over the host. When alarmed, all caterpillars in the group will move in unison in jerking motions that may be a mechanism for self-defense. Depending upon the location and climate, 1-4 generations of fall webworm can occur per year. Fall webworm adult moths lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of host plants in the spring. These eggs hatch in late June or early July depending on climate. Young larvae feed together in groups on the undersides of leaves, first skeletonizing the leaf and then enveloping other leaves and eventually entire branches within their webs. Webs are typically found on the terminal ends of branches. All caterpillar activity occurs within this tent, which becomes filled with leaf fragments, cast skins, and frass. Fully grown larvae then wander from the webs and pupate in protected areas such as the leaf litter where they will remain for the winter. Adult fall webworm moths emerge the following spring/early summer to start the cycle over again. 50+ species of parasites and 36+ species of predators are known to attack fall webworm in North America. Fall webworms typically do not cause extensive damage to their hosts. Nests may be an aesthetic issue for some. If in reach, small fall webworm webs may be pruned out of trees and shrubs and destroyed. Do not set fire to H. cunea webs when they are still attached to the host plant.
- Hickory Tussock Moth: Lophocampa caryae is native to southern Canada and the northeastern United States. There is one generation per year. Overwintering occurs as a pupa inside a fuzzy, oval shaped cocoon. Adult moths emerge approximately in May and their presence can continue into July. Females will lay clusters of 100+ eggs together on the underside of leaves. Females of this species can fly, however they have been called weak fliers due to their large size. When first hatched from their eggs, the young caterpillars will feed gregariously in a group, eventually dispersing and heading out on their own to forage. Caterpillar maturity can take up to three months and color changes occur during this time. These caterpillars are essentially white with some black markings and a black head capsule. They are very hairy, and should not be handled with bare hands as many can have skin irritations or rashes (dermatitis) as a result of interacting with hickory tussock moth hairs. By late September, the caterpillars will create their oval, fuzzy cocoons hidden in the leaf litter where they will again overwinter. Hosts whose leaves are fed upon by these caterpillars include but are not limited to hickory, walnut, butternut, linden, apple, basswood, birch, elm, black locust, and aspen. Maple and oak have also been reportedly fed upon by this insect. Several wasp species are parasitoids of hickory tussock moth caterpillars.
- Lacebugs: Stephanitis spp. lacebugs such as S. pyriodes can cause severe injury to azalea foliage. S. rhododendri can be common on rhododendron and mountain laurel. S. takeyai has been found developing on Japanese andromeda, leucothoe, styrax, and willow. Stephanitis spp. lace bug activity should be monitored through September. Before populations become too large, treat with a summer rate horticultural oil spray as needed. Be sure to target the undersides of the foliage in order to get proper coverage of the insects. Certain azalea and andromeda cultivars may be less preferred by lace bugs.
- Viburnum Leaf Beetle: Pyrrhalta viburni is a beetle in the family Chrysomelidae that is native to Europe, but was found in Massachusetts in 2004. This beetle feeds exclusively on many different species of viburnum, which includes, but is not limited to, susceptible plants such as V. dentatum, V. nudum, V. opulus, V. propinquum, and V. rafinesquianum. Some viburnum have been observed to have varying levels of resistance to this insect, including but not limited to V. bodnantense, V. carlesii, V. davidii, V. plicatum, V. rhytidophyllum, V. setigerum, and V. sieboldii. More information about viburnum leaf beetle may be found at http://www.hort.cornell.edu/vlb/ .
Concerned that you may have found an invasive insect or suspicious damage caused by one? Need to report a pest sighting? If so, please visit the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project: http://massnrc.org/pests/pestreports.htm .
Reported by Tawny Simisky, Extension Entomologist, UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery, & Urban Forestry Program