Caterpillar invasion called a nuisance

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you've been outside the past few days, you may have noticed a lot of worm-like creatures hanging from the trees. Some people call them a nuisance because they stick to everything and seems like their numbers have increased with the early spring temperatures.

Some joggers and dog walkers say the insects are unwelcome visitors.

They're all over my hair and my clothes," said Richmond resident Cheryl Miller.

"I was out doing yard work the other day and they were all over the place," added Andrew Dickson, who also lives in Richmond.

The critters make their skin crawl. Some people call them inchworms, but these are actually caterpillars on their way to becoming moths.

"These are the Fall Cankerworms is what they're commonly called," said University of Richmond assistant professor of Biology Apama Telang.

Telang says this time of year is when the caterpillars hatch and feed.

"We've had a mild winter so my guess is they've hatched in large numbers and they're making their way around the trees," she said. "They like a lot of our trees like maples, oak trees [and] elms.

The sticky, silken thread is actually a mode of transportation.

"They're just moving around," she said. "They're using the silk threads to just disperse, instead of walking slowly. What they'll do is that they'll hang down by a thread and a wind will come by and they'll just disperse."

Experts say to get rid of the pesky critters without hurting them. All you have to do is pick them up by their silken string and place them somewhere else.

Many people feel divided over how to handle the creatures.

"Squish them," said Miller.

"I didn't squish it," said Dickson. "They're a living creature. Why would I kill it?"

Professor Telang says parents could use the insects as a lesson about Mother Nature.

"They're just really fun to watch," said Telang. "We just talk about what is the stage and what are they going to be when they grow up."

Professor Telang says people shouldn't worry about the caterpillars. They're part of the food cycle and really do not do much harm to the trees they feed on. If a tree looks sick, it's probably from another cause like a drought...not the caterpillars.

Entomologists say it takes about five weeks for a caterpillar to fully mature into a moth.

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