Caterpillar Pests

— Written By

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.

Bagworm ‑ mostly evergreen

Birch skeletonizer ‑ birch

Cankerworm ‑ elm, maple, oak, etc.

Cecropia moth ‑ many trees

Eastern tent caterpillar ‑ cherry, apple

Fall webworm ‑ pecan, elm, etc.

Forest tent caterpillar ‑ maple, oak, poplar

Greenstriped mapleworm ‑ maple, oak, etc.

Hemlock looper ‑ hemlock

Hickory horned devil ‑ hickory, walnut

Imperial moth ‑ many trees

Io moth ‑ various trees and shrubs

Juniper webworm ‑junipers

Luna moth ‑ many forest and 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.

Regal moth (hickory horned devil)

Spiny oakworm ‑ oak

Stinging caterpillars ‑ oak, many others

Uglynest caterpillar ‑ cherry, etc.

Walnut caterpillar ‑ pecan, walnut, etc.

Yellownecked caterpillar ‑ hickory, oak

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.

Dusky birch sawfly ‑ birch

Elm sawfly ‑ elm

Pin oak sawfly ‑ oak

Redheaded pine sawfly


The 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.

Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) or acephate (Orthene) are labeled for caterpillars control. B.t. Will be most effective on caterpillars when they are small and less effective as they grow larger. Other insecticides may be labeled for certain types of caterpillars. As with any pesticide application, be sure the plant you are applying the chemical to is listed on the label.

Written By

Photo of Deborah HunterDeborah HunterCounty Extension Administrative Assistant (828) 349-2046 debbie_hunter@ncsu.eduMacon County, North Carolina
Posted on Jul 8, 2016
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