Bagging the Bag Worms

Today I started out taking a walk with intentions of finding some flowers to photograph, but when I saw so many bag worms my plans were changed. I went back to the house, grabbed a couple of plastic grocery bags and headed back into the woods that separate the house from the farmer’s field. In this small area I bagged the bag worms, or tent worms if you prefer, from nearly a dozen small trees. An entomologist would call them Eastern Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma americanum.

In the past I have burned them out with a lighter or used a stick to scramble their nest. Today, I thought to physically remove them from the cherry trees that they seem to prefer. Is it the taste of the leaves? Why do these destructive caterpillars choose cherry trees for their nests? Is it because many of the cherry trees are already damaged by a blight? I’ll research this a bit, but if anyone can enlighten me — please do!

Bag worms, also called tent worms, are infesting this small cherry tree.
Bag worms, also called tent caterpillars, are infesting this small cherry tree.

Wrapping my hand from the outside of the bag over the nest, squishing the worms into a big handful and sliding them into the plastic was pretty gross! I got over it though. I don’t like the idea of spraying chemicals to kill things, so manually removing the worms was necessary. Burning them out was not possible due to the dry state of things at the moment. If left untouched, the caterpillars would eat every leaf on their tree and other nearby trees.

5 thoughts on “Bagging the Bag Worms”

  1. Over here, they go for one wild cherry exclusively: Prunus padus. The trees can take them, and will sprout new leaves after the current ones are all gone, but can’t take them two years in a row.
    We had lots last year, and unfortunately it looks like we’ll have lots this year. too. Bummer for the Prunuses.

  2. Thanks for chiming in, Henriette! I went around looking for any tent caterpillar-infected tree that wasn’t a cherry and couldn’t find one. I believe the hard hit tree here is the pin cherry, Prunus pensylvanica.

  3. Hi. I owned a pecan farm for many years. Bag worms also attack pecan trees. It can really be a nightmare to farmers if they are not kept under control. With so many trees we had no other option than using chemicals. I lived in Georgia at the time so I guess thay are all up and down the east coast. Don’t know about anywhere else.

  4. Jennia, sounds like you could live without the bag worms, too! Sometimes chemicals can help us, but I guess you had big problems in the monoculture pecan farm. I’m curious if you intercropped any grass or other herb-type plant between the pecan trees? Not that it would help the bag worm problem, just wondering.

    Why does my mind ALWAYS picture a pecan pie when someone says the word ‘pecan’?!

  5. Here in Texas, bagworms run just about rampant amongst our pecan trees. They’re irritating…not particularly dangerous to the tree, but just so ugly. Since they’re in the pecan trees, killing them or removing them by hand is not an option. I have infestations up to 20′ above ground level. Any suggestions on how to get rid of them?

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