Caterpillars on Cherry Trees: Identification & Elimination

Cherry trees possess a unique charm, with their elegant branches adorned with either sweet-smelling flowers or vibrant leaves.

However, these beautiful trees can sometimes play host to uninvited guests — caterpillars.

These seemingly harmless creatures can pose a significant threat to the health and beauty of your cherry trees and should be eradicated as soon as you notice them.

Getting rid of caterpillars on cherry trees involves manual removal of caterpillars and their eggs, use of biological controls like beneficial insects, application of appropriate insecticides, and cultural practices that promote tree health and deter pests.

Understanding how to deal with caterpillar infestations is essential for those who want healthy and lush cherry trees.

In the following, you’ll learn all about caterpillars on cherry trees as we discuss the prime suspects, why they’re attracted to these trees, their life cycle, the symptoms of an infestation, and the potential damage they can cause.

Key Takeaways

  • Caterpillars can cause defoliation and stress to the tree, weakening it and making it more susceptible to other pests and diseases.
  • Many species of caterpillars can infest cherry trees, each with unique characteristics that can aid in identification.
  • Management strategies include cultural practices, manual removal, biological control, chemical control, and integrated approaches.
  • While caterpillars can cause significant damage, they are unlikely to kill a healthy, mature tree.

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Caterpillars on Ornamental Cherry Trees

With their stunning blossoms, ornamental cherry trees are a favorite among gardeners and landscapers. Unfortunately, they’re also quite attractive to caterpillars.

Let’s explore why this is the case and how these tiny creatures live, feed, and potentially harm your beloved trees.

Why Caterpillars Are Attracted to Ornamental Cherry Trees

Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. They are typically herbivorous, feeding on leaves and other plant parts.

Ornamental cherry trees offer a plentiful food source for these creatures thanks to their abundant leaves and blossoms.

Additionally, the tree’s structure can provide shelter and a suitable environment for caterpillars to grow and develop.

Caterpillar Life Cycle & Feeding Habits

The life cycle of a caterpillar is a fascinating journey:

  1. The caterpillar begins as an egg, laid by a female butterfly or moth on a plant or tree.
  2. After hatching, the caterpillar spends most of its time eating, rapidly consuming leaves to fuel its growth.
  3. As it grows, the caterpillar sheds its skin several times in a process known as molting.
  4. Once it has reached its full size, the caterpillar enters the pupal stage, forming a protective casing around itself.
  5. Inside this casing, it undergoes a remarkable transformation to emerge as an adult butterfly or moth.

Caterpillars are voracious eaters. They use their strong jaws to chew leaves, blossoms, and sometimes even the fruit of cherry trees.

Their feeding habits can vary depending on the species. Some caterpillars feed alone, and others feed in groups. Some species are active during the day, but others prefer to feed at night.

Symptoms of Caterpillar Infestation

An infestation of caterpillars can cause a range of symptoms in cherry trees. The most obvious sign is often visible damage to the leaves.

You may notice holes in the leaves, or entire leaves may be chewed down to the veins. In severe infestations, caterpillars can defoliate a tree completely.

Other signs of an infestation include the presence of caterpillars themselves or their droppings, which look like tiny, dark pellets.

You may also notice silken threads or webs in the tree, particularly if the infestation is caused by tent caterpillars or webworms.

Potential Damage

While caterpillars are a natural part of the ecosystem, a heavy infestation can cause significant damage to cherry trees.

The loss of leaves can weaken the tree because leaves are essential for photosynthesis. This can stunt the tree’s growth and reduce its vigor.

In addition, the wounds caused by caterpillar feeding can make the tree more susceptible to diseases and other pests.

If the caterpillars feed on the blossoms or fruit, the tree’s ornamental or crop value can be reduced.

In extreme cases, a severe infestation can even kill a tree, particularly if the tree is young or already stressed due to other factors.

The Importance of Proper Identification

Proper identification of the caterpillar species is crucial for effective management. Different species can have different feeding habits, life cycles, and susceptibilities to control methods.

By correctly identifying the culprit, you can tailor your management strategies to be as effective as possible.

Identifying Caterpillar Suspects

There are several species of caterpillars that can infest cherry trees. Each species has unique characteristics that can help in identification.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common culprits.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

Eastern tent caterpillars on top of their webbed tent.

Eastern tent caterpillars are easily identifiable by their distinctive tents, or silken webs, that they build in the crotches of branches.

They are hairy caterpillars, with a white stripe down the back and blue and black markings along the sides.

Forest Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria)

A large group of forest tent caterpillars.

Despite their name, forest tent caterpillars do not build tents. Instead, they leave silken trails wherever they go. They are bluish-gray with a row of white, keyhole-shaped spots down the back.

Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea)

A group of fall webworms and their webbing.

Fall webworms create large, conspicuous webs at the ends of branches. They can be either pale yellow or greenish with spots and long, silky hairs.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar (Lymantria dispar)

A Gypsy moth caterpillar on green leaf.

Gypsy or spongy moth caterpillars are one of the most destructive pests. They are hairy with a pattern of blue and red dots along the back.

Cankerworms (Various Species)

A single green inchworm on a tree leaf.

Cankerworms, also known as inchworms, have a distinctive looping movement. They are green or brown and lack the middle pair of legs.

Cherry Scallop Shell Moth (Rheumaptera prunivorata)

The caterpillars of the cherry scallop shell moth are greenish black with yellow stripes and light yellow undersides. They feed on the leaves, often leaving only the veins.

Cherry Fruitworm (Grapholita packardi)

A single fruitworm larva on white.

Cherry fruitworms (and the similar plum fruitworms Grapholita packardi) are small, pinkish caterpillars that bore into the fruit of cherry trees, making them a significant pest in cherry orchards.

Other Common Caterpillar Species Found on Cherry Trees

Many other species of caterpillars can infest cherry trees, including the yellow-necked caterpillar, the red-humped caterpillar, and the ugly-nest caterpillar.

Each species has unique characteristics, so proper identification is key.

Prevention and Management Strategies

Managing caterpillar infestations on cherry trees can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it’s definitely achievable.

Let’s explore some of the most effective prevention and management strategies.

Cultural Practices

Maintaining the overall health of your tree is one of the best ways to prevent caterpillar infestations.

This includes proper watering, fertilization, and pruning practices. Healthy trees are more resistant to pests and can recover more quickly from infestations.

Manual Removal

For small infestations, manual removal can be an effective strategy. This involves physically removing caterpillars and their eggs from the tree.

It’s best done in the early morning or late evening when caterpillars are most active.

Biological Control

Biological control involves using natural enemies of the caterpillars to control their population. This can include predatory insects, birds, and parasitic wasps.

Microbial insecticides are also available, such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacterium specifically targeting caterpillars. I recommend this one.

Chemical Control

Chemical control should be used as a last resort as it can also harm beneficial insects. However, in severe infestations, it may be necessary.

There are several insecticides available that are effective against caterpillars. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using these products.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a comprehensive approach to pest control that combines all the above strategies.

It involves regular monitoring for pests, cultural and biological controls, and the judicious use of chemical controls when necessary.

Related Questions:

Are Eastern Tent Caterpillars Poisonous?

Eastern tent caterpillars are not poisonous and do not pose a direct threat to humans or pets. However, some people may have allergic reactions to the hairs on the caterpillar’s body.

Can Caterpillars Kill a Tree?

While caterpillars can cause significant defoliation and stress to a tree, they are unlikely to kill a healthy, mature tree.

However, repeated heavy infestations can weaken a tree and make it more susceptible to other pests and diseases.

Closing Thoughts

Caterpillars on cherry trees can be a cause for concern, but with knowledge and proactive management, you can protect your trees and keep them healthy and beautiful.

Early detection, proper identification, and an integrated approach to control are key.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the thought of what could go wrong with your cherry tree. Rather, learn how to deal with one problem at a time by reading these articles next: