Ever see one of your trees with so many caterpillars on it you can barely see any bark? Do they leave behind a weird sponge-looking mass? Those, my friend, are gypsy moth caterpillars, and that sponge is actually a mass of their eggs. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.

Photo Credit: Banner Sales and Consulting, Inc.
Photo Credit: Banner Sales and Consulting, Inc.

We spoke to a local arborist, Jim Mulligan, who described one property he treated with hundreds of infested trees.

“The caterpillars were falling from the trees so frequently, it sounded like it was pouring down rain.”

And now that we’ve reached August, they are emerging from their cocoons as super creepy Gypsy moths (also known as spongy moths). True to the name, they travel from place to place throughout North America, causing absolute destruction to not only oak trees (though these are their favorites) but birches, elms, and 300+ other types of trees.

What You Can Do
If you see the spongy mass on your trees, before you pull out the Windex or weed killer or something you assume might do the job, think again. That sponge is made of countless larvae that will rehatch the following season. Besides, those chemicals will harm your tree as much as the actual moths do.

Instead, Michigan State University’s forest entomologists urge you to use a hard scraper to remove the mass, dump it either into a fire and burn it or put it in a bucket of water with dish soap, let it sit overnight, and dispose of it in the morning. It may seem like a lot of steps to take, but these creatures are invasive and harmful to your foliage, so it’s important to be thorough in your removal of them before they multiply.

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If you caught it too late and your tree looks dead, don’t worry, all the leaves have just been eaten, and they’ll come back. If the tree is struggling the following season, reach out to a local arborist about treatment options.

Your trees will thank you!

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