Plant Health Care in Richmond, VA

Richmond Times-Dispatch : Inchworm infestation returns

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Richmond Times-Dispatch : Inchworm infestation returns

If you’re creeped out by this year’s bumper crop of inchworms, you’re not alone.

The unusually large infestation means extension agents in Hanover and Chesterfield counties have been bombarded with requests.

“People are calling me and just begging me to tell them (something they can do),” said Jim Schroering, a Hanover extension agent. He said his office probably has received 75 calls or emails about this year’s problem with spring and fall cankerworms, also known as inchworms.

“What poison can I use to kill them?” callers ask. They’re often disappointed by his reply.

“Because of their lifecycle, there’s not much you can do,” Schroering said. “The (cankerworms) should be done here in about two weeks. The population will crash or pupate into another form and go back in the ground.”

Some people end up philosophical about the spindly worms that drift from trees on silky threads and attach themselves to anything: “We’re glad we have trees and live in a beautiful part of the state,” he paraphrased.

Others want something done immediately. “They get mad that we’re not going to aerially treat the whole county.”

Schroering has investigated some of the calls, getting covered with cankerworms in the process.

“I probably had 100 of them on me Friday, and believe me, I was not looking for them,” he said. “They were thick. I got out of the car and they were all over me.”

He took a photo of a 6-inch post crawling with cankerworms after answering another call from the Hanover Courthouse area. “This lady said, ‘You won’t believe it, but the worms are an inch thick on my fence.’

“I thought, I have to see this. They’re not 1 inch thick, but they sure cover the post.”

Chris Asaro, a forest-health specialist for the Virginia Division of Forestry, said the outbreak is occurring in Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Powhatan and Amelia counties in many of the same areas where cankerworms were a problem last year.

Because of the warm winter, this year’s outbreak is occurring about three weeks earlier than last year. The timing means the trees aren’t fully leafed out, limiting the food supply and possibly starving some of the worms, Asaro said.

In any case, the cankerworms will be gone in about two weeks, and healthy trees will recover and leaf out again, he said. The worms will make cocoons in the soil and emerge in the fall or spring as geometer moths to lay egg masses on trees. Both varieties of larvae hatch in the spring.

The area around Richmond seems to have large buildups in cankerworm populations every 10 to 20 years, Asaro said. The outbreak typically runs its course in two or three years.

In Chesterfield, extension agent T. Michael Likins said predators eventually will help control the situation. Bluebirds, warblers and robins are enjoying the feast.

“Warblers are finishing up the tail end of their migration. This is great food for them,” he said. “Bluebirds are already starting to hatch; they will feed (their babies) this nutrient-rich larval smorgasbord.

“There’s always an upside. Nature has a way of compensation. But, it’s tough to tell that to a client whose trees are being defoliated.”


Written by vaphc

April 3, 2012 at 6:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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