Kansas State University


Extension Entomology

Tag: Caterpillars

Bagworms are Here!

–by Dr. Raymond Cloyd

Bagworms are Here!

Now is the time to start taking action against that “infamous” insect pest known as the bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). Throughout Kansas, bagworm eggs have hatched and the young caterpillars are feeding on both broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs. Bagworms are primarily a pest of conifers but have expanded their host range to include a number of broadleaf plants, including: rose, honeylocust, and flowering plum. Hand-picking small caterpillars (along with their accompanying bag) and placing them into a container of soapy water will kill them directly. This practice, if feasible, will quickly remove populations before they can cause substantial plant damage.

For those not interested in hand-picking, a number of insecticides are labeled for use against bagworms including those with the following active ingredients (trade name in parentheses): acephate (Orthene), Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki (Dipel/Thuricide), cyfluthrin (Tempo), lambda-cyhalothrin (Scimitar), trichlorfon (Dylox), indoxacarb (Provaunt), chlorantraniliprole (Acelepryn), and spinosad (Conserve). Many of these active ingredients are commercially available and sold under different trade names or as generic products. However, several insecticides may not be directly available to homeowners. The key to managing bagworms with insecticides is to apply early and frequently enough in order to kill the highly susceptible young caterpillars that are feeding aggressively on plant foliage (Figure 1). Older caterpillars that develop


Figure 1. Young Bagworm Feeding On Conifer (Author-Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University)


later in the season (Figure 2) are typically more difficult to kill with insecticides. Furthermore, females feed less as they prepare for reproduction, which reduces their susceptibility to spray applications and any residues. The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki is active on young caterpillars; however, the active ingredient must be consumed to be effective, so thorough coverage of all plant parts and frequent applications are required. This compound is sensitive to ultra-violet light degradation and rainfall, which reduces residual activity. Spinosad is the active ingredient in a number of homeowner products, including: Borer, Bagworm, Tent Caterpillar and Leafminer Spray; Captain Jack’s DeadBug Brew; and Monterey Garden Insect Spray. These products work by contact and ingestion (stomach poison) although they are most


Figure 2. Older Bagworms (Author-Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University)



effective when ingested and can be used against older or larger bagworm caterpillars (Figure 3). Cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, trichlorfon, chlorantraniliprole, and indoxacarb may be used against both the young and the older caterpillars. However, thorough coverage of all plant parts, especially the tops of trees and shrubs, where bagworms commonly initiate feeding, and frequent applications are required. The reason multiple applications are needed when bagworms are first detected is because young bagworms “blow in” (called ‘ballooning’) from neighboring plants on silken threads. If left unchecked, bagworms can cause significant damage, and ruin the aesthetic quality of plants. In addition, bagworms may actually kill plants, especially newly transplanted small evergreens, since evergreens do not usually produce another flush of growth.


Figure 3. Captain Jack’s DeadBug Brew (Author-Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University)

If you have any questions regarding the management bagworms contact your county horticultural agent, or university-based or state extension entomologist.



European Pine Sawfly

–Dr. Raymond Cloyd

Yesterday (April 17, 2017) European pine sawfly, Neodiprion sertifer larvae were detected feeding on my “indicator pine” in Manhattan, KS (I was totally excited!). Young caterpillar-looking larvae are 1/4 inch in length and olive-green in color with a black head (Figures 1). Mature larvae are >1.0 inch long with green stripes. The larvae are gregarious or feed in groups on needles of a variety of pines, especially Scotch, red, and mugo pine. When disturbed, each individual larva will arch their head and abdomen (last segment of an insect body) back, forming a “C-shape” (Figure 2), which is a defensive posture to ward-off predators.

Figure 1. Young European Pine Sawfly Larvae

Eventually, larvae will strip the needles of mature foliage, leaving only the central core, which is white and then turns brown (Figure 3). In general, larvae complete feeding by the time needles emerge from the candelabra. Therefore, those really is only a minor threat of branch or tree death resulting from sawfly larval feeding. However, the loss of second- and third-year needles will be noticeable in landscape trees; thus ruining their aesthetic appearance. In late spring, larvae drop to the ground and pupate in brown, leathery cocoons located at the base of trees. Adults, which are wasp-like, emerge in fall and lay eggs in needles prior to the onset of winter. There is one generation per year in Kansas.

Figure 2. European Sawfly Larvae In A Defensive Posture (Arching Head And Abdomen Back)

Sawfly larvae look-like caterpillars; but, they are not caterpillars (Order: Lepidoptera). Sawflies are related to ants, bees, and wasps (Order: Hymenoptera). The primary way to distinguish a sawfly larva from a caterpillar is by the following: 1) sawfly larva have prolegs (fleshy abdominal legs) on every abdominal segment whereas caterpillars are missing prolegs on the abdomen and 2) caterpillar larva have hairs or crochets on their feet whereas sawfly larva do not have hairs or crochets on their feet.

Figure 3. Feeding Damage To Pine Caused By European Pine Sawfly Larvae

Sawfly larvae are not caterpillars, therefore, the bacterial insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki (sold as Dipel) will not directly kill sawfly larvae. Dealing with sawfly larvae involves hand-picking (you can wear gloves if you wish) or dislodging larvae from plants by means of a forceful water spray. If necessary, there are a number of insecticides that may be applied to suppress European pine sawfly populations including: acephate (Orthene), azadirachtin, carbaryl (Sevin), spinosad (Captain Jack’s DeadBug Brew and Conserve), and any pyrethroid insecticide (e.g., bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin). Be sure to read the insecticide label to make sure that sawflies are listed. For more information regarding European pine sawfly management contact your county or state extension specialist.


Rose Sawflies: Out With a Vengeance!

–by Dr. Raymond Cloyd

We are receiving numerous questions regarding insects feeding and completely devouring rose plants. These insects are sawflies, and there are at least two species that attack roses during this time of year: the rose slug (Endelomyia aethiops) and bristly rose slug (Cladius difformis). Rose slugs are the immature or larval stage of sawflies, which are black to yellow colored wasps.

Rose sawfly females create pockets or slits along the edges of rose leaves with their saw-like ovipositor (egg-laying devise) and insert individual eggs. Larvae hatch from eggs and resemble a slug. The larvae are 1.2 cm long when full-grown and yellow-green with an orange head (Figure 1). Larvae eventually fall on the soil surface to pupate. Rose slugs overwinter as pupae in earthen cells created by the larvae. There is typically one generation per year in Kansas. Bristly rose slug larvae are pale-green and 1.5 to 2.0 cm in length. The body is covered with numerous bristle-like hairs (Figure 2). There is generally one generation per year in Kansas.

Figure 1. RoseSawflyLarvaeFeedingonRoseLeaf
Figure 1: Rose Sawfly Larvae Feeding on Rose Leaf

Figure 2. BristlyRoseSlugLarvaeFeedingOnLeafUndersideofRose
Figure 2: Bristly Rose Slug Larvae Feeding on Spirea Plant

Rose slug larvae feed on the underside of rose leaves; resulting in leaves with a skeletonized appearance (Figures 3 and 4) and eventually they create notches or holes on the leaf margins. Bristly rose slug larvae feed on the underside of rose leaves and also cause leaves to appear skeletonized. However, the larvae may chew larger holes than the rose slug.

Figure 3. DamageonRosePlantCausedByRoseSlug
Figure 3: Damage on Rose Plant Caused by Rose Slug

Figure 4. DamageonRoseLeafCausedByRoseSlug
Figure 4: Damage on Rose Leaf Caused by Rose Slug

Small infestations of either the rose sawfly or bristly rose slug can be removed by hand and placed into a container of soapy water. A forceful water spray will quickly dislodge sawfly larvae from rose plants and they will not be able to crawl back onto rose plants. There are a number of contact insecticides with various active ingredients that are effective in suppressing populations of both sawflies. However, the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki (sold as Dipel or Thuricide) will have no activity on sawflies as this compound only works on caterpillars.

Brownheaded Ash Sawfly

–Dr. Raymond Cloyd

We continue to receive inquires throughout the state regarding green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) trees being fed upon by populations of the brownheaded ash sawfly, Tomostethus multicinctus. This is a sporadic, early season, defoliating insect pest that appeared in Manhattan, KS in 2013. Populations feed extensively causing noticeable foliar damage and producing lots of frass (sawfly poop).

Brownheaded ash sawfly larvae, which resemble caterpillars, are 15 to 20 mm long and yellow-green in color with white and green stripes extending the length of the abdomen or back (Figures 1 and 2). They possess a brown head, and have prolegs on every abdominal

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segment with no crochets or hairs on the feet, which distinguishes them from caterpillars. Brownheaded ash sawfly larvae feed primarily on ash trees (green and white) (Figure 3).

figure 3 cloyd


Brownheaded ash sawfly pupates in the spring, with adults, which are wasp-like in appearance, emerging and females laying eggs inside leaves. Eggs hatch into larvae that congregate into massive groups at the base of trees (Figures 4 through 6), and feed from May through June. The larvae create shot-hole or pin-hole damage on leaves when young (Figure 7), but as they increase in size, the larvae consume entire leaves, especially terminal leaves (except the main veins), resulting in almost complete defoliation. The larvae are full-grown by June and shed a paper-like skin that is attached to the leaf (Figure 8). Larvae then migrate toward the base of the tree, enter the soil, and form a protective cocoon. Brownheaded ash sawfly overwinters as a full-grown larvae or pre-pupae within silken-lined cells located in the top portion of the soil at the base of previously infested trees. High numbers may congregate at the base of trees. There is one generation per year.

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In general, it is not warranted to spray an insecticide unless populations of brownheaded ash sawfly larvae are excessive and causing substantial damage to ash trees, which is contingent on the size or age of the tree. It is interesting to note that rainfall will quickly remove larvae from trees. In fact, a forceful water spray will dislodge larvae, which fall to the ground, and then are subsequently consumed by birds. If necessary, insecticides may be applied that contain the following active ingredients: acephate, bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, permethrin, petroleum oil (horticultural oil), potassium salts of fatty acids (insecticidal soap), and pyrethrins. These are all contact insecticides so thorough coverage of the tree canopy is important. Since this insect is a sawfly, insecticides such as Dipel or Thuricide that contain the active ingredient, Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki will not be effective (refer to the previous issue of the newsletter). Be sure to assess the numbers of larvae present in order to determine if sufficient damage is occurring to justify the application of an insecticide.





Caterpillars and Sawflies

—Dr. Raymond Cloyd

Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths; whereas the larval stage of sawflies is greasy looking and slug-like with the adults resembling wasps. Remember, caterpillars are in the insect order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) whereas sawflies are in the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps). There are a number of caterpillars and sawflies that feed on horticultural crops. Common caterpillar pests include bagworms, eastern tent caterpillar, fall webworm, mimosa webworm, yellownecked caterpillar, walnut caterpillar, cutworms, European corn borer, and tomato/tobacco hornworms. Sawflies that feed on plants include the European pine sawfly, brownheaded ash sawfly, rose sawfly, and scarlet oak sawfly. Sawfly larvae resemble caterpillars; however, there is a difference.


There are two ways to distinguish between caterpillars and sawflies. First, sawfly larvae have prolegs (stubby-looking legs) on every segment of the abdomen whereas caterpillars are typically missing prolegs. In Figure 1, a caterpillar is on the top and sawfly on the bottom. Second, caterpillar larvae have hairs or crochets on their feet while sawfly larva do not have hairs or crochets on their feet, which is shown in Figure 2, with the caterpillar prolegs on the top and sawfly prolegs on the bottom. Why is it important to know the difference between caterpillars and sawflies? Well, one of the common insecticides recommended for use against young caterpillars is Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki that is sold under many trade names including Dipel and Thuricide. This is a bacterium that must be ingested or consumed by the target insect pest, in this case, caterpillars, in order for death to occur. However, the insecticide has no direct effect on sawfly larvae. Therefore, it is important to correctly identify the “caterpillar-like” insect before selecting an insecticide. Specimens may be sent to Kansas State University, Department of Entomology (Manhattan, KS) or the Kansas State University Diagnostic Clinic in the Department of Plant Pathology (Manhattan, KS).



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