Which critter is which?
With increased emphasis on gypsy moth reduction, similar insects are being confused for one another. Jean Gomory, watershed specialist at the Warren County Conservation District, said they are getting calls about tent caterpillars being identified as gypsy moths.
However, what most people are actually seeing is none of the above. Tent caterpillars come out in the spring, Gomory said, so it's unlikely many of them can be seen right now.
This is a web created by fall web worms
This is a gypsy moth caterpillar
Cecile Stelter, district forester, said the webs now being found in trees are made by fall web worms. Gypsy moths don't build tents like that, but are defoliators.
Instead, gypsy moths live under the bark and in crevices found in the trunks of trees. When they travel up the branches, Stelter said, they feed on foliage and leaves.
Fall web worms form colonies and also feed on leaves, Stelter said, but not to the extent of gypsy moths. Their numbers are smaller and they venture out from the protection of their webs to feed before returning to them.
"Timing is probably the biggest difference between them," Stelter said. "Both are caterpillars, but the gypsy moth comes out early in the growing season and defoliates the trees."
Trees put out the leaves, but gypsy moths start eating them right away. If they defoliate enough of the leaves, Stelter said the tree has to produce more leaves and expend energy in the process.
Fall web worms are normally found in cherry trees and crab apple trees. They're mostly in the ends of branches and, as their name implies, come out in the fall.
That comes at the end of the whole growing season, Stelter said, and trees have had that time to go through their natural biological processes. Even if the fall web worms do damage some of the trees, she said, it is usually minimal.
If they want to, Stelter said people can cut the webs out of the trees. However, she said they should not try to burn the fall web worms out as this can cause more damage to the trees and branches than the insects do.
"Aesthetically, it's not pleasing to people," Stelter said.
Unlike gypsy moths, Stelter said fall web worms are native to the area. Like most insects, she said, fall web worms are cyclical and people are reporting them earlier this year likely because of the early spring.