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What is that Fuzzy Caterpillar Falling from My Oak Tree?

Tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia spp.)
Fuzzy caterpillar with red head

Tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia spp.). Photo credit: Julie Schelb.

Why the oak trees?
Light or yellow color fuzzy caterpillar

Tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia spp.). Photo credit: Julie Schelb.

Over the last couple of weeks, if you have oak trees, you have probably seen tussock moth caterpillars (Orgyia spp.). They crawl all over anything underneath the trees. Oak trees are a host plant for the tussock moth caterpillar. Usually the caterpillars do not have much effect on the oak trees. Most commonly in Florida, you will find either the fir tussock moth (Orgyia detrita) or the whitemarked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma).

 

Cocoons, caterpillars, and safety
White cocoons in ball moss on bark of oak tree.

Cocoon of tussock moth in ball moss on oak tree. Photo credit: Julie Schelb.

In addition to the caterpillars crawling all over, you may also notice their cocoons in trees (sometimes attached to ball moss)  or on the sides of buildings. The Florida Museum of Natural History has more information on the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis. If you see the caterpillars or their cocoons, avoid touching them as they may cause skin irritation or itching. Levels of sensitivity may vary from person to person.

 

 

Leave them alone, but if you must…
Fuzzy caterpillars and cocoons on house siding.

Tussock moth caterpillar and cocoons on house siding. Photo credit: Joanne Gilmore.

If you feel like you must remove the cocoons, use a broom to sweep them into a pail of soapy water. Otherwise, just avoid contact and watch out for the caterpillars! The larvae and caterpillars of tussock moths have plenty of natural enemies, including beetles, birds, wasp parasitoids, and pathogens. No need to add your name to that list! For more information on the tussock moth caterpillar, check out UF Featured Creatures.

 

 

References:

Hall, Donald H. and Lyle Buss. Tussock Moths-Orygia spp. EENY-588. Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/URBAN/MEDICAL/tussock_moths.htm.

Folt, John L., Tussock Moth Caterpillars in Northcentral Florida. Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida/IFAS. https://ipm.ifas.ufl.edu/community/Tussock_Moth_Caterpillars_in_Northcentral_Florida.shtml.

 

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18 Comments on “What is that Fuzzy Caterpillar Falling from My Oak Tree?

  1. The ones we’ve got around the Leon County area are brown fuzzy guys with a pale stripe down their back and white docks down their sides (I compare it to a Pullman car passing by at night with its windows lit, but I have a bizarre imagination). They’ve been dropping out of trees for a week or so and crawling around. They look fairly short haired. They look darker than these pictures, but, they are fuzzy caterpillars falling from trees. Could they be some similar species?

  2. I need Help they eat all my leaves and flowers of Blackberrys after waiting for a year to produce Fruit. Not only that but , They bait Us and I have a Allergic Reaction. Thanks

    • Hi Darly, feel free to contact our Plant Clinic (863-519-1041 or polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu) for more information on identification and tips for help with your blackberry plants.

  3. We have seen probably 6 different varieties here in our property in Hernando in Citrus county over the past week. Definitely the tussock’s as you’ve mentioned above but several more, some fuzzy, some green, some large and spotted; they are all supercool and I love to know what they are and what they will look like as a moth. Could I send you some pictures to help identify them? Thank you

  4. I tried to leave them alone, then they started eating my rose bushes, so I added my name to the list of their enemies!!

    • Hi Arlene, feel free to contact our Plant Clinic (863-519-1041 or polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu) for more information on identification and tips for help with your rose bushes.

  5. Do they kill the Oak trees? We have thousands (and that is not an exaggeration) my concern is they will kill the trees and then we will have to worry about the trees falling on the house.

    • Hi Tracy,

      While the tussock moth caterpillars usually do not harm oak trees, some defoliation may occur. For more information on control, if needed, please contact our Plant Clinic at 863-519-1041.

  6. i live in new york state near kueka lake ,,,these catapillars have been falling to the ground for over a week ,,,,,with extreme cold here i dont see how these things can survive !!! the top of my oak tree is almost empty of leaves ..what is wrong ??? is my oak tree dying from the bugs coming from the tree ,,they hang on a thread like a spider ,,then fall to the ground ..what can i do to stop this ???

    • Hi Hazel, According to the Ask IFAS article on Fir Tussock Moth: “Control of the caterpillars is difficult because by the time they are migrating from the trees, it is too late. In Florida, feeding damage to large trees by Orgyia species does not usually harm the trees. However, they may occasionally be sufficiently numerous to completely defoliate large trees. Also, large numbers of larvae blown onto small landscape trees may result in severe defoliation. If control measures are required, chemical insecticide or Bacillus thuringiensis applications recommended for control of other caterpillars should be effective.” The entire article on Fir Tussock Moth can be found online: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN1032. For more information, please contact our Polk County Plant Clinic by phone at 863-519-1041 or email at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu.

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