In the late summer in Raleigh, Durham and the Triangle area, we will occasionally get a call concerning these caterpillars, better known as the Orange Striped Oakworm. They rarely get inside a house, but they can become a nuisance on driveways, patios and sidewalks. Many are not noticed until they get squashed under someone’s foot. If you come across some of them, look around and you should find an oak tree nearby with some leaves missing.
The caterpillars eat the green of the leaves and leave the veins, changing the appearance of the leaf into a leaf skeleton. As fall approaches the caterpillar will drop to the ground and look for a place to burrow into the soil where they will grow into a pupa and wait out the coming winter. It will emerge in early summer as a small moth and are commonly seen around lights at night. The female moth will lay clusters of eggs on the bottom of oak tree leaves. The larvae (the caterpillar) will hatch and hungrily munch the tree leaves in order to prepare to pupate.
What About the Health of my Oak Tree?
The overall health of the tree should not be affected, but the damage can be an eyesore. I’ve seen young, smaller trees where the caterpillars had eaten every single leaf. There are several insecticides that you can buy to treat the infested trees. Make sure caterpillars are listed on the label and follow the rules of application that are written on the label.