Wednesday, August 6, 2014


So, I like Catalpa trees. . .probably the only person that does. When we were kids, we used the pods for sword fights; as an adult I love the orchid-like flower.

I walk under a big Catalpa every morning on my way to the garden or compost pile. Coming in to the house one morning last week, I felt something on my back and after dancing around for 5 minutes discovered about 20 caterpillars on my back and in my hair. Yipes! I've got worms - Catalpa worms!

The Catalpa caterpillar is the larva form of the Hawk or Catalpa Sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpa), a gray nondescript moth.

What interests me is that the moth and the tree have coexisted for thousands of years and depend on each other. The tree is the only tree that the caterpillar eats. In fact the caterpillars can completely defoliate a tree 3-4 times during a summer yet the tree survives and most always come back looking healthy. No other tree can withstand this devastation.

The catalpa sphinx overwinters as a pupa in the soil under the tree on which it has eaten. In spring, pupae work their way to the surface of the soil and moths begin to emerge shortly after the Catalpa tree has leafed out.

And, like anything else, someone has found a way to make a buck selling the caterpillars. Fisherpersons (is that a word?) sometimes propagate the trees just to harvest the caterpillars. They are considered excellent catfish bait – the caterpillars not the fisherpersons. A caterpillar can be divided into 3-4 pieces of bait and because of the caterpillar’s skin is tough it isn't easily taken off the hook by the fish. The caterpillars can even be frozen and thawed and used. . the catfish are none the wiser. Or, the caterpillar can be “pickled” with corn syrup and stored in a jar in the refrigerator to be used as bait. I even found a guy selling a special container in which to freeze your caterpillars.

Another positive is that the frass (poop) fertilizes the tree and anything else under the tree. . .Yipes! I probably had caterpillar poop in my hair.