The number of white and black, red-rumped buck moths flying around probably means a large population of the dreaded buck moth, stinging caterpillar come spring, said LSU AgCenter entomologist Gregg Henderson.

Reports from New Orleans residents suggest a similar manifestation in March and April, Henderson said.

“Their favorite spot is in oak trees,” he said, “where they lay eggs in a circle around small stems. Larvae will begin to hatch in March and April. They will stay in small groups for a while, then disperse when they become larger.”

People, especially children, come in contact with the stinging caterpillars when the caterpillars fall to the ground to pupate in the soil.

“That’s when they’re on the move and dangerous,” Henderson said. “The venom proteins in the hollow spines (of the caterpillars) can last for a while after the caterpillar dies.”

A live oak can lose most of its leaves to the voracious caterpillars, but the tree quickly recovers with little permanent damage.

Treatment is to spray trees with a pesticide containing Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria. Natural controls, viruses and tachinid flies, could lessen an infestation.

Ed Cullen

Advocate staff writer