What to do when webworms invade your trees

By Larry Dablemont
    A couple of years back, I talked about a surefire way to destroy fall webworms by using a long pole with a newspaper page or two taped to the end. What I do is set fire to the paper, hold it up beneath the webs and burn the worms inside.


    Shortly after my column came out, a Springfield- office media specialist for the Department of Conservation wrote that such a technique should never be used because it might “damage the tree.” He recommended using chemicals.
    Damage trees? What nonsense! The silliness of that amazes me. You couldn’t possible damage a tree with that flame beneath a web. Where there is a web, the leaves are mostly gone. But actually fall webworms really never harm trees. I have seen them so thick on persimmon trees you would think there would be irreparable harm but there never is.
    I am only affected by those webworms which get into my hickory tree over my boat or pickup and leave millions of little round pellet droppings which result from the leaves they strip passing through their larval bodies. Eventually the adult stage is a small white moth with little black dots on the wings. That moth is commonly called a Mulberry moth, or Hyphantria. It is the moth-larvae that is known as fall webworms.
    They are not tent caterpillars; those are spring larvae from a different moth that build similar webs, but always at the end of branches…a different insect entirely.
    Anyway, if you have tent caterpillars you want to get rid of close to your home, just use a long pole and newspaper wrapped around the tip to burn them. Despite what that office-bound suburbanite MDC media-specialist who gets his knowledge from the Internet wrote; it WILL NOT damage the tree. Chemicals have been known however, to damage people. MY ADVICE IS DON’T USE THEM!
    The difference between outdoor writers of my time years back and the ‘outdoor communicators’ of today is that the old time writers lived the life, did what they wrote about, and learned via study and observation from their own experiences rather than the internet or books. I never knew a good outdoor writer (and I have known some great ones) who grew up in a suburb or city. But then, the people who read what today’s “media specialists” and “outdoor communicators” write, too often believe everything they read. If only they knew.     
    There is much I see today written about nature and the outdoors that is very, very erroneous. Or as the old rivermen in the pool hall might have put it, in more colorful terms…it is a product involving the droppings of male cattle.
    Ozark outdoorsman Don Lynch is a good friend of mine living down near Yellville, Arkansas who loves bird dogs and quail hunting. He is really upset about the burning of a tract of public land that is supposed to be an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s quail restoration area. Last week they burned it off, completely eliminating the winter escape cover and any food the plants might offer.
    “I don’t think they have any idea what they are doing.” He told me. “The hawks are going to have easy pickings this winter if any quail cross that burned over land.”  
    I think Don is right. He says they have a big sign there saying, “Bring Back Bob.” If you are interested in restoring a population of quail, you don’t burn land off in October, destroying the cover that will get them through the coming winter.
    “Last year they burned it off in July,” he said, “and I told them, for gosh sakes there are still nests coming off and young quail there. They were surprised to hear that. They told me they wouldn’t do that anymore in the summer!”
    I asked him if the burners were biologists and he said he had no idea what they called themselves.
    Sometimes burning can be a tool for helping quail if done in March in order to bring back new spring growth for food and nesting which will begin in late April and May and continue into late summer. But if you have some idea of helping quail, you sure as heck don’t burn off the plantlife that will help them survive the winter. By doing that, you only help predators, and high numbers of egg eaters and hawks are part of the reason quail have declined. I hope to see the area Lynch has told me about and take some pictures. I’ll write more about quail in a future column.
    Retired Arkansas wildlife biologist Michael Widner, who grew up on an Ozark farm, wrote a book about quail that I wish those habitat burners working for them now, had read. If you are a quail hunter or simply someone wanting to see their return in appreciable numbers, read his book. To get a copy, call our office at 417-777-5227 or email me at lightninridge47 @gmail.com. I also urge you to see my website, www.larrydablemont.com. And you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo., 65613.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.