LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Have you noticed that your oak tree is looking worse for wear this fall?
One viewer told us she suspected a worm was eating her oak tress. Not only that, she said there are copious amounts of droppings on her deck, driveway, and cars.
But the culprit is not a worm, but in fact a caterpillar. More specifically, the Variable Oak Leaf Caterpillar, which is appropriately named because its color can vary.
Around fall, this caterpillar feeds heavily on the leaves of an oak tree. When oak trees prepare for winter and chlorophyll levels begin dropping, it is prime feasting time for the caterpillar. When there are a lot of them, the sound of their droppings can be mistaken for rain. The droppings can leave stains, but it is important to note that they do not cause harm to humans or pets.
While the viewer was experiencing problems in Hot Springs, we found that Polk, Pike, and Clark counties had similar reports.
Which brings us to the next question, why are there so many of them?
The lack of rain has helped the caterpillars feast for a longer period of time this year. Usually, rain will knock some of the creatures off the trees and we sweep them up while raking leaves.
So, if rain is not getting rid of the caterpillars how do we get rid of them? The short answer is that we can’t. The caterpillar will either make it to its adult stage which is a gray moth or fall and naturally overwinter under leaves. Sprays are found to be ineffective since it would be difficult to reach the leaves in a tall oak.
Yes, this is a nuisance, but it is an important part of the ecosystem. It is not necessary for the trees, but the Oak Leaf Caterpillar is a valuable food source for a few bird species like woodpeckers and blue jays.