Virginia’s Trees Under Attack: The Case of the 2024 Caterpillar Invasion

Spring in Northern Virginia is usually a time of renewal, during which vibrant green leaves and blossoms cover the landscape. But this year, many residents are witnessing something else: trees stripped bare of leaves and sometimes perishing. This outbreak of dying trees stems from an onslaught of caterpillars, something property owners must be prepared and knowledgeable about to combat.

Below, we delve into possible caterpillar culprits and explore the situation’s symptoms and ramifications:

Prime Suspects

Several caterpillar species in Virginia can cause significant defoliation events in outbreak years. In this instance, the two leading suspects are:

  • Spongy (formerly Gypsy) Moth: Introduced from Europe, this invasive insect is a notorious defoliator of hardwoods, particularly oaks. Spongy moth outbreaks occur cyclically, so populations surge every few years. 
  • Eastern Tent Caterpillar: Although native to Virginia, the eastern tent caterpillar can also instigate an outbreak of tree deaths. These caterpillars are typically active early in the season and build distinctive silk tents in the crooks of branches.

Signs and Symptoms

Your property’s trees may have a caterpillar infestation if they experience the following issues:

  • Skeleton Leaves: Among the most straightforward infestation signs are trees with leaves missing large patches, where the caterpillars have consumed their green matter. 
  • Caterpillar Sightings: Another tell-tale sign—numerous caterpillars crawling on trees or resting among their trunks and branches. 
  • Frass Accumulation: Caterpillar droppings (called frass) will accumulate on the ground beneath infested trees.

Impact and Concerns

Dying Tree Northern Virginia

While defoliation events may shock and dismay, healthy trees can usually recover in a year or two (as long as they don’t experience other stressors like drought or disease). However, repeated defoliation weakens trees and makes them more vulnerable to the elements.

Homeowners who want help with caterpillar infestations will find useful materials in the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Resource Library and Tree and Forest Health Guide. The VDOF plays a crucial role in monitoring caterpillar populations statewide. Homeowners with trees in advanced states of decay can turn to Timber Works for safe and quick tree removal services.

What You Can Do

If you suspect a caterpillar infestation on your property, here are some steps you can take:

  • Check out Timber Works’ online tree expertise (or call us directly!) to see whether you need tree removal to slow the infestation.  
  • If you have a small infestation, consider handpicking caterpillars or removing egg masses (though ensure you wear gloves, as contact with some caterpillar species can irritate the skin). 
  • Contact a local pest control company for help treating the infestation. 

Ask Timber Works How to Save a Dying Tree in Northern Virginia!

Since caterpillar outbreaks are natural to Northern Virginia’s forests, keep yourself informed and take appropriate action when necessary to protect your property. Folks experiencing problems with insect infestations or dying trees can refer to Timber Works’ Common Tree Signs page. Alternatively, call (540) 254-5773 to ask about our tree removal services and get a free project estimate.

The post Virginia’s Trees Under Attack: The Case of the 2024 Caterpillar Invasion first appeared on Timber Works Tree Care.

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