Last Update May 29, 2014
Catalpa Worms and Trees: For Questions and Answers about Catalpa scroll on down past this article.
The Decline of the Great Catalpa Tree and Worm
I was born in 1947. My Grandfather was a tobacco farmer outside of the Richmond, VA area. My earliest memories of his house (3-5 years old) brings back a mighty Catalpa Tree that was in the front yard. I was about 18, when I last saw it. I remember on one of its branches, being about 8 inches, there was a porch-type swing held by chains. I can still hear Grandma fussing about all the worm droppings that would fall on the swing, when the Catalpa Worms were in season and eating the leaves from the tree.
It was when the worms were about 3” long, they were ready for fishing. 30 to 40 worms were gathered up and placed in small wooden cages made for them. A few Catalpa Leaves were also placed in with them to keep them happy. This was the time to go fishing. This was when you had the best fresh water fishing bait you could find. One worm could be cut into 3 to 4 sections to make as many pieces of bait. The worm’s skin is pretty tough, so it is not easy for the fish to just “peck” it off the hook, like they can a cricket. Fact is, you catch several fish on the same piece of worm bait.
For 4 decades now, I have still kept Catalpa Trees and Worms in my life. I, at one time, had over 200 Catalpa Trees, and many, many, crops of worms. I have studied them quite extensively. In 2000 I published a book “THE CATALPA TREE AND THE CATALPA WORM”. I learned much about the Catalpa Worm’s life cycle. This information was addressed in the book. For almost two years, I even published a Newsletter “THE CATALPA FARMER”. I stopped publishing this Newsletter for lack of subscribers.
One of the strange things I learned about the Catalpa Worm is that the Catalpa Tree is its only source of food. I have never seen this worm on any other tree, nor have I ever been able to sustain them on any other types of leaves, or media. The Catalpa Tree Leaves are the only thing they will eat. Without Catalpa Trees, you will not have any Catalpa Worms. If anyone has had any luck with using any other kind of leaves or any other growing media, I would like to hear from them. I always thought it was important to find something else to raise the worms on, so that people who didn’t have Catalpa Trees could still raise the worms and have them for fishing. I never was able to solve this problem.
All of my large Catalpa Trees were planted around some fishing ponds I have. One day, while I was away in town, some sub-contractors working for my power company came by. I was told by some one who saw them working, that they were spraying trees to kill them. The next day, I realized that my Catalpa Trees had been sprayed. Many were not even near any power lines. I also counted and removed 127 dead fish from the ponds. They were all small young fish. Usually when I find dead fish from acid rain, they are large older ones. I was mad when I realized that their spraying not only killed my fish, but also wiped out my large Catalpa Trees.
I placed a call to complain about it, and it just so happened that the lady I spoke with knew what Catalpa Trees and Worms were. Her father had raised them. Her reply was strictly “Company”. “The trees should have been marked somehow and the spray does not kill fish”. She was sorry, but there was nothing that could be done. I guess if they would have paid me a thousand dollars for each tree (about 30), it still would not have fixed anything. All but one of those trees are now gone.
It takes about ten years to have a nice tree that can support several hundred worms. Sometimes you can save a few years by planting “cuttings”. But from a seed, it takes a good decade to have a really nice large tree.
Cuttings, this is another amazing thing I learned about Catalpa Trees. Cuttings that are 3 to 4 feet long, or longer, have an incredible 80% survival rate. They are simply placed about a good foot or more into the ground. I also strip all leaves off. Water them daily until new leaves have a good start. Plant in full sun and in an area that has good drainage. Sometimes a few look like they have taken, but don’t come back the following year. That’s the test. When you see the cutting come back to life the following year, you know you have a new healthy tree.
There are some people who think the worms kill the trees, by eating all the leaves off of it. From what I have seen, this is not the case. I have seen trees completely defoliated 3 or 4 times during a single summer. They always come back. They always look healthy. I have tried to understand the possible symbiotic relationship between the worm and the tree. There surely must be one. Any other normal tree could not take this, and would die. Then there is also the large deposit of worm dung from the worms. Sometimes it completely covers the ground around the tree. This surely is most beneficial.
I have seen Catalpa Trees die that never had a worm on them, and never lost any leaves. Seems to me that “dryness” kills this tree more so than others. If the Catalpa Tree dries, it dies. I have even thought that if the trees had their leaves all eaten off during dry season, this would help contain the tree’s moisture, and not lose it all because of the huge surface area produced from its large leaves. This would let moisture escape at a high rate. That was the only symbiotic relationship I could ever come up with. I never could understand why loosing all its leaves, several time in one summer, could be beneficial.
Over the last 15 years, I have observed many problems that the Catalpa Trees and Catalpa Worms, have been going through. The trees are being cut down in many places to make room fro progress. When most old Catalpa Farmers pass away, their children sell the land. The trees are next, to pass away. I read one time that nearly all the timber that was cut to lay the tracks for the Continental Rail Road……were Catalpa Trees. This was because of its known ability to last much longer than other wood, and not rot as fast. I’m thinking that was a lot of trees to lay track from the East to the West of America.
So, I guess at one time, Catalpa Trees and Catalpa Worms were very, very, plentiful. Chinese make beautiful wooden boxes from these trees. They pay good money for the Catalpa Tree. Some people came home to find their Catalpa Trees cut off at the ground and missing. My cousin, several years ago, told me of just a story in Richmond, VA. It was in the newspaper where these people came home to find all their Catalpa Trees cut down and gone!
With so more fewer trees, we have so more fewer worms. Predators also take their toll. Rain Crows (Yellow Billed Coo-Coo), other birds, wasp, yellow jackets, ambush beetles, ants, and many more, many times wipe out the whole worm population on an entire tree, 500 to 1,000. The Catalpa Moth (Ceratomia catalpae, Order Lepidoptera; Family Sphingidae….The Catalpa Sphinx, common hawk or sphinx moth) comes out in the evening to feed and lay her eggs on the tree’s leaves. If you live in an area where they spray for mosquitoes, this is usually when they spray. This is not good for the mother moth, or any existing worms on the tree. So people who live around spraying areas usually don’t have much luck with worm farming.
I would like to start gathering information on the status of Catalpa Trees and Catalpa Worms in America. I am thinking if they are disappearing, it is happening un-noticed, and I want to bring attention to this area. They may be approaching “Endangered”. We should not let anything happen to them. I want to document their current situation.
If you have any knowledge concerning the status of Catalpa Trees and Catalpa Worms in you local area, I would like to hear from you. Please send whatever information you have. Have trees been cut in your area? Did there used to be trees? Did there used to be worms? Please send what ever information to:
email@example.com or, FMRC, POB 18105, Pensacola, FL 32523.
If you would like to help with the funding of this program, and help promote Catalpa Trees and Worms in your area, you can send a donation in any amount and request your gift of 5 Catalpa Tree Seeds just recently collected. Send donation and gift request to the above FMRC address.
Just simply make all donations out to FMRC. Donations also help keep this important page up and alive. If you have benefited from this page, and would like to see others benefit as you have, please make out your donation in any amount today. Its important! Thank You!
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
When the Catalpa worm matures and digs into the ground, it changes into the above "Chrysalis". When the time is right, it emerges and comes out of the ground as the Catalpa Moth and lays her eggs on the underside of the Catalpa Tree leaf. The Catalpa Chrysalis can be stored in the fridge for a year or two when kept in something like moist sand. Best stored in a mason canning jar with a cloth so that it can get air exchange. It must not be sealed. It should be checked regularly to ensure it does not dry out. When the worms are mature, place them in a container that has several inches of dirt. The worms will go into the dirt and change into the Chrysalis. It cannot be frozen. This will kill it. The Chrysalis is the only stage that can be held for long periods of time. Some believe that the worms can be frozen, then brought back to life. This is false. If the worms are frozen, they will die but can be thawed out to fish with at a later time when fresh worms are not available.
The dreaded "Rain Crow". Can eat entire worm population on your tree in short order. This one knocked himself out by flying into a window. I took him off 100 miles away and let him go. Photograph by Stephen L. Peele.
Questions and Answers About Catalpa Trees and Worms
I list names and email addresses here so that the people who have interests in Catalpa can contact each other. If you do not want this information given when making replies to me, please state so and I will not list them. You can ask me to remove your name and email address at any time.......enjoy. Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Catalpa Trees And Catalpa Worms will soon be available through Mail
January 28, 2013
Scrolling through the Internet, I realize that is not the proper terminology, but I am not one to adhere to fad phrases, I ran across your article on "The Decline of the Great Catalpa Tree and Worm".
I live in Walling, TN, halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. The Catalpa Sphinx moth is doing quite well here. I currently have over 2,600 trees and no shortage of caterpillars.
My oldest trees are 5 years old this year, and should have enough to start marketing this Summer. Regards, John Roberts
I called and talked to John today, Jan. 29, 2013. He wants to start a business supplying Catalpa Trees and Catalpa Worms. I have already started to share information about shipping the worms. The worms do not do good in the mail. The Chrysalis stage of the caterpillar is the stage just before Moth. I have pictures of these here on the sight and they are explained. These mail very good. When you receive the Chrysalis, you just bury them in the ground 3 or 4 inches, laying them horizontal, and gently light pat the dirt back over it. The Catalpa Sphinx Moth will emerge when the time is right, then find your Catalpa Tree, and lay her eggs on the underneath side of one of the leaves on the tree. Within a week or a few more days, depending on temperature, the small young worms will emerge.
I plan to work close with John because I see a way to bring back the Catalpa Tree and worm, to many areas now without them. I will post here any ordering information as soon as I get the OKAY. It appears we are going to bring um back. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Catalpa Worms Now Available Through Mail Order!
As of June 4, 2013, Worms and Chrysalis are available! Contact John Roberts for more information.
The price for the caterpillars is $8 per dozen plus shipping (In this
stage of the life cycle, shipping will have to be overnight).
The price for the chrysalis or pupa stage is $2 each plus $10 shipping
and handling. Offer is made by John D. Roberts. His contact information is:
Getting Rid Of Fire Ants
Many people have trouble with fire ants getting their worms. They are very bad getting the young worms. First, you must be careful putting poisons on the ground that might go into the ground and kill any of your chrysalis. A trick I learned many years ago. First, take a shovel and lift out the entire ant hill. Sit it down. Then, go to another hill and lift it out and carry if over to the first hill spot and sit it down in the hole. Then take the first hill and carry it over and sit it down in the second hole. Now what happens first is that all the ants work together taking down the eggs and small grubs. After this has happened, the ants then turn on each other when they realize they are different. Huge clumps of them end up fighting and killing off each other. Next day, no ants. To keep ants out of your trees, put a 1/2 inch wide smudge of Vaseline around the base of the tree. The ants will not cross this. When the worms are big enough to go down the tree and enter the ground, you may have to remove this Vaseline. Also make sure no vines or other means touch your tree. The ants can get into your tree by this method. slp/fmrc
Miss Bonnie, I will post up the following emails.
October 5, 2012
firstname.lastname@example.org Bonnie contact email
Hi, My name is Bonnie &I saw your article on Catalpa worms, so I am hoping you can help me. About 10 are more yrs ago we made the mistake of letting someone get the worms off our tree &it was covered in them and was covered in them every year for as long as I can remember until then. But ever since we let him get those they have never came back. I tried going to a Catalpa worm farm &getting more putting them on the tree still nothing. Since then the people who took over the farm when the owner passed away, destroyed all the trees so they don't have them anymore. I have 2 young trees & one tree is probably over 40 to 50 yrs old & that was the one that always had them. Is there anything I can do to get them back, they were the best catfish bait I ever used, and I have tried everything I could think of I even brought branches from the other trees that had worms on them & attached them to mine so they could move themselves, that didn't work either. I live in Splendora Texas about 50 miles north of Houston, TX . Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Thank You Bonnie
Miss Bonnie......I am thinking the people got every worm off the tree. You should always leave 10 to 20 worms so that they can come back. With no worms to go into the ground to make moths to lay eggs for next generation, you will not get the next generation of worms. You said you moved branches from other trees that had worms. Sounds like a predator, rain crow or something else, got all of the worms. I will place these emails with your email address so that if someone knows how to get worms to you, they can contact you. The only way to have worms, is to start them your self by transplanting them from another tree, or a Catalpa Moth finds the tree and lays here eggs on it. Thank you for your interest. Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC, Catalpa Division
Mr. Peele, I have a catalpa tree about 20 feet tall but no worms. I have ordered 4 more I will be planting whenever they arrive. I have ordered some chrysalis from John Roberts to get the worms started. I have read that the chrysalis will die if frozen. Does this apply to those in the ground under the tree as well? Sometimes the ground will freeze to a depth of 18-24 inches or more here. Will I have to restart the worms each year?
George in Joliet, IL
George........Why do you order 4 more catalpa trees when you should have many branches on your 20 foot tree to use for planting? The branches make excellent starting material for more trees. This planting should be done in the spring. Going down into the ground is what keeps the worm chrysalis from freezing during winter months. Yes, if it freezes, cell fracture occurs and it will die. Freeze depth of 2 feet is a really hard freeze. Unless the ground area is soft enough for the worm to dig down that deep, that does not sound good. You might try collecting 10 to 15 worms when they are just about ready to go into the ground. This will be when they are at their largest size. Place them in a 5 gallon bucket with some fresh catalpa leaves. The leaves should be replaced with fresh leaves every 2 hours as long as the worms are still eating. This is important because this is how the worms get their water. The leaves will dry out very fast once picked, leaving the worm with no water. Cover the bucket with a screen to keep worms inside. They will stop moving and start to change into the chrysalis stage. When the change is complete, place them in a canning jar and fill with a soft dirt like potting soil. The dirt must be kept moist but not too wet to cause water to stand in the bottom of the jar. So every week or so, check for moisture. You do not want the dirt to dry out. Keep the lid on the jar loose so there can be small air exchange. Keep the jar in the fridge not freezer. When the following spring returns and all chances of frost have past, dump the jar out, retrieve the chrysalis and bury them close to your tree 2 to 3 inches deep. If the moths are allowed to come forward in the jar, their wings will not develop correctly and they will not be able to fly. Steve Peele
GLYNN P GAUTREAU TO:
Harvey Templet Message flagged
Monday, September 24, 2012 6:52 PM
Stephen, My friend is an ardent catfisherman.we live in south Louisiana. He has had trees with worms, but they died ,or the birds got 'em. I sure would like to know where I can buy some live worms to put on his trees! can you help? thank you . glynn gautreau
Glynn.....check a search on Catalpa Worms Live on the net. Sometimes people offer them. I will post your email on our Catalpa Site to see if maybe someone replies. If you like this idea, please send a good email address for yourself to email@example.com so that you can get any response. firstname.lastname@example.org slp/fmrc
Date: 3/18/2012 3:12:47 PM Central Daylight Time
Hi, all my life my grandparents have had catalpa trees and worms. About 40 trees actually. About 7-8 years ago the worms did not come back. I am not sure of the reason but now I am wanting to reproduce some trees at my house and get his making worms again. First question when should I place the worms on the trees (I think I can find someone that has some locally). I would assume about 15 full grown worms per tree. Next question is when and how is the easiest to reproduce new trees. I do have a green house as well. Should I try drying seeds or should I try planting cuttings? Also about 10-12 years ago my grandpa cut all his trees off at about 5 foot and let them re-grow so that picking the worms off the trees is easier. Is this a good idea to do or not?
Thanks in advance,
Cody........10 to 15 worms should be fine. Their size should not make any difference as long as they mature and go down into the ground. Cuttings....3 to 5 foot cuttings should be planted about 12 inches in the ground. Remove all the leaves. Area should be kept watered well. When you see new leaves come on, that is a good sign. When the cuttings produce leaves the following year, they have taken. This works very well and usually 80% take. Plant where they can get full sun all day and have good drainage. Many worm farmers keep their trees cut back to make handling the worms easier. There is no problem with this. Whenever taking worms, never take all of them. Always leave a few for next years crop. You might want to keep an eye on things concerning predators, Rain Crows, wasp, ants, all can wipe your worms out.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
From: RONEE GROFF <email@example.com>
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Sent: Sunday, August 5, 2012 1:44 PM
Subject: What to do?
I think you may have saved the life of a Catalpa Tree and the worms that just ate all of the
leaves. I live in Southern New Jersey and one of these trees has grown next to my house.
When I looked out of the window and saw what appeared to be voracious devouring worms
eating the leaves I nearly fell over. The critters were crawling all over and I had no idea
who they were or what kind of a tree we were dealing with.
I did an internet search and found your contribution on this subject. My question to you is who do I call where I live to contribute the tree and the worms and the land they are now living in rather then kill the whole area? Having read you and the writers in this column I feel guilty
about killing what appears to be something of natures gifts. Any suggestions?
Egg Harbor Township
Ronee.........Yeah, you are lucky to have such a treasure.....both tree and worms! Give me a little time and I will post your letter up on the Catalpa thread on our website. Perhaps someone close by will be interested and contact you if they read this. Thanks for looking after our little friends. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Catalpa Divsion, FMRC
Subj: catalpa trees and worms
Date: 7/3/2012 3:01:31 PM Central Daylight Time
Received from Internet: click here for more information
Hi Stephen, My father was a true fisherman. I think he would have fished in a 5 gallon bucket if there were nowhere else to fish. I remember the stories about his friend who was a jiggerpole fisherman. As much as my dad liked to fish, he told me he was content just to paddle the boat and watch his friend fish. He said his friend would take a catalpa worm, turn it inside-out with a matchstick and bring up some of the biggest redbreast bream you have ever seen. My sister and I would sneak down to a large old catalpa tree in our neighborhood on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina and smoke “Indian Cigars” when we were kids. We actually enjoyed the harsh taste. I live in eastern North Carolina now and about 20 years ago I purchased two catalpa trees. Once I started growing mine, I noticed them growing everywhere. There were even some that had been planted on some local government property. I suppose a government official ordered them planted. Catalpa trees are not only beautiful trees, and the flowers are gorgeous, but I grow mine for the worms. When my trees were still too young to produce seed, I “borrowed” some seeds from those two government trees. I figured a little bit of those trees were mine anyway! LOL. I planted those seed and grew four more trees. They now have reached a really nice size. This is the second year I have had a bumper crop of worms. They have almost completely stripped those four trees. The first two trees I planted have a few worms but very few. It seems like as soon as I have an outbreak within a couple of days, there are no worms left. I have tried my best to blame my lack of worms on brown wasps, but have no evidence that they are the least bit interested in catalpa worms. They seem to be more interested in a brown substance that grows in the forks of the leaf veins. I have actually seen brown wasps bump into catalpa worms that they could easily carry off and move away from them to gather that brown stuff between the leaf veins. Same thing with the rest of the bee and the ant population; they seem to want that brown stuff, whatever it is. I have witnessed three things that I know will kill and eat catalpa worms. One is an insect that looks like a stinkbug, but is much smaller; like a stinkbug in its infancy. It stabs the baby catalpa worm with a mouth part that looks like a tiny straw, and sucks the juice out of it leaving a dried up hull. I actually have taken pictures of this little rascal and could probably find one if you are interested. And it may be a baby stinkbug for all I know. I have witnessed assassin bugs taking some worms, and birds when the worms get large enough to make a meal. I have scattered catalpa seed around my small pond and hope to grow a lot of trees down there. I also scatter seed along the edges of the woods. I have placed some seed in the holes of cinder blocks and have raised several trees there. You have to remove the block before the third growing season. I have transplanted those and they are doing well. I also have two volunteer trees growing wild in my yard. The trees I notice growing wild are usually located in ditch banks, and usually someone cuts them down before they reach any real size. I also have a neighbor that sells catalpa trees. The trees in my area seem to be coming back into popularity. I hope this is the type information you are looking for. May God bless you, Drake Smith Burgaw NC Dsmith41098@ec.rr.com
Subj: Re: catalpa trees and worms
Date: 7/4/2012 9:07:21 PM Central Daylight Time
Drake.......they are many species of those bugs that look like stink bugs that attack the worms. Many times you find the worms hanging dead from their back legs. This is from that attack. That brown substance is sap. Honey bees make a hard antibiotic wax from it. I guess the others just like to eat it. You are lucky to have worms. They are not around like they used to be. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Date: 7/1/2012 10:56:35 PM Central Daylight Time
I came across your article and was amazed that the Catalpa tree/worm was a southern native. We have them up here in central Illinois. When I was a kid in the 60’s the worms were plentiful on two large trees by the lake where we lived (the 60’s and 70 ‘s had severe winters). When my father retired in 1981, he planted a catalpa tree and later successfully transplanted worms to the tree. When I moved back to the country in 1994 we did the same thing at my property. For a couple years I had worms, then they vanished. Spraying did not occur. They seemed to be gone everywhere at once ???? Climate change doesn't seem a likely cause since they ranged from here to Florida which covers a wide climate. Perhaps its an introduced parasite ????
rstr........I know of no new introduced parasite. The worms already have plenty predators. Too many worms at once so that none have enough food to reach maturity, all worms are collected leaving none for next generation, Rain Crows, wasp, hornets, ants......these are the biggest reasons for loss of worms. I'll post this at our site. Thanks.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
Date: 5/19/2012 5:03:21 PM Central Daylight Time
I live in Northeast Arkansas. My family and I have two large catalpa trees in our yard. When I was younger, me and my grandfather use to fish with the worms. I have yet to find worms on my trees. We have lived here for eight years. When should I look for them or expect them to show up? Thanks for the help!
Joey.........If you are saying you have not seen worms in eight years, this means there must not be any around. Here around the Pensacola, FL area on the Gulf Coast, they first show up on my trees right at the end of April or the first part of May. Then, several times again during the year. There can be a number of reasons why you no longer have any worms appearing. As you have probably read here, there are many predators that attack the worms. If they are all killed off, this means none mature and enter the ground to appear as moths and produce the next generation. The worms many times, have to be farmed properly. Sometimes, the worms can be their own worst enemy. Say for instance you have too many eggs laid on the tree. So many worms hatch out, that they quickly eat all of the leaves and completely strip the tree. When this happens, none of the worms are allowed to mature. They all die of starvation at an early age and none mature enough to enter the ground and become moths. When this happens, there is no new cycle from this group of worms. You must be careful that this does not happen. You must thin down the worm population so that there is enough food to allow at least 10 to 20 worms, to reach maturity and go into the ground. The ones you pick off the tree can be frozen to use at another date for fishing. This should insure moths to lay eggs for your next generation.
From the information I have been gathering, it appears that the catalpa worms are disappearing at a faster rate than the catalpa trees. I will soon start a process to have both the worms and trees placed at least on the "Protected Species List". We will see how it goes. In the mean time, perhaps you need to find some worms from another place, and move them to your tree to start the worms again. 10 to 20 worms should be enough. Watch them carefully and insure that they reach maturity and go into the ground. If they are all killed off, well, you have to start over again. Thank you for your response and question. It surely will be helpful for many others.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Date: 3/3/2012 7:37:17 AM Central Standard Time
We had catalpa worms all my life, I'm 45. Something happened after hurricane Katrina. They just disappeared. I've checked around the neighborhood and they are all gone. After talking with everyone it seems to be related to the county's mosquito control spraying. We were told they started using a different chemical to spray with around that time. I would just like to locate some live worms to restart my crop. I still have the trees but haven't had any worms since the storm. If you know where I can get some around the Pass Christian, MS area please let me know.
Tcollins........Most of the time, spraying is done just as it gets dark. This is when the moths come out to lay their eggs. The spray is not good for them or any worms that happen to be on the tree at the time. I will place your email up at our site. Perhaps someone who has some worms will get in touch with you. Good Luck. Not sure what the Katrina Storm has to do with lack of worms. I do know this though, I have seen many strange changes since our own bad storms here. There could be some connection, but I come up with nothing. Thanks for the information.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
Sir, I live in Arkansas and when I was growing up we had Catalpa trees and a plentiful supply of worms. I now live in a town with a Catalpa tree in the front yard. This summer all the worms migrated off the tree before even one branch was fully denuded. I realize it was extremely hot this year and that is probably why they left. Will they come back? I haven’t ever seen this happen before. It might have when I was young but that was so long ago that I don’t remember it. In the picture of the chrysalis, you had them cold for a couple of years and they were still viable. Will they still be if that is what they are doing through the heat? I just found your website and I found it very interesting. Thank you, Cindy
Miss Cindy........The worms that left, did they grow full to 3 to 4 inches long? And then, did you see them leave the tree? If not, I am thinking maybe a Rain Crow found them. They do not leave the tree because it gets too hot, only when the worm matures and they go down into the ground (they usually do this at night), or all the leaves are eaten and they come down on the ground looking for another catalpa tree. Heat does not affect these worms or when they are in the ground. If the worms did mature and go down into the ground, they will be back from the moths that will lay their eggs on the tree again. I will post this on our Catalpa Site. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
FMRC: There was only one branch that had been mostly eaten. Usually the whole tree would be empty. In fact, there is another Catalpa tree on the next block and it happened there also so it wasn’t just the one tree. Cindy
This is really strange. Never heard or seen this happen before. Sometimes ants can invade the tree and send some off. Did you notice any ants? Fire Ants are bad for this. In any case, if any of the worms were mature and ready to go into the ground, you will again see the worms. slp/fmrc
Ants are pretty bad there. I can’t sit outside without them getting on me. I bet you have it figured out. Thank you.
Subj: catalpa tree
Date: 5/26/2011 7:52:20 PM Central Daylight Time
A friend of mine suggested I email you....I have a catalpa tree that was my fathers. He passed away 2 years ago from cancer...the only thing I was left or asked for was his favorite tree...I remember as a child pulling those ugly worms off and fishing for bass or some kind of fish... ...GREAT MEMORIES! I transplanted this tree to my home...but have yet to get a worm??? How to I do this...Any help would be appreciated...as this is all I have left of my father...but love it!!! And the memory....Thank you in advance for any advice....
Tammy.......the worms appear on the tree when the Catalpa Sphinx Moth lays her eggs on the leaves. No moths are around to find your tree. Find a tree that does have worms. Move 10 to 15 worms on your tree. When they mature and are about 3 to 4 inches long, they will go down into the ground at night, and bury themselves deep. They later will emerge as the moths and lay their eggs on your tree.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Date: 5/10/2011 5:32:59 PM Central Daylight Time
I am from South Carolina Lowcountry. I have used catalpa worms nearly all my life.
I have several trees and have given away many seedlings. Every year, I have so many seedlings that I have to destroy because they are in the way. I enjoy providing seedlings to others and also like to have worms to share with friends.
My big problem is wasps and especially "red wasps". As soon as the eggs hatch, the wasp carry all of them away. I have other wasps and bees. Any suggestions about
controlling these wasps?
Doug........Yeah, wasps can be a bad problem. They can't tell the others at their nest where the worms are, but they can keep coming back to the same place. You can't use any spray as this will also get the worms. I usually keep a couple of good rubber bands on my wrist. If I see a wasp come in, I take a rubber band and snap it at them. This will many times cause them to fall on the ground, if not killed out right. On the ground, I stomp them to death. When they get to be too much of a problem, I go out to the tree with a "Red Ryder", a BB gun made by Daisy. This also allows to just target the wasps and not the worms. Always be sure to look down range for cars or house windows and the like. Watch the tree for a good hour to make sure you get all the wasps visiting the tree. Just after a short while, you can become very good doing this. Once you have killed all the wasps visiting the tree, it will be a few more days before new ones return. Thanks for the good question. I will start posting tips at my website, I will use this one. Oh, and one more thing about using rubber bands. Sometimes the wasp will come back at your face when the band snaps back......grin. The BB gun is best.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
Subj: Re: Catalpa trees and worms
Date: 5/8/2011 2:14:06 PM Central Daylight Time
Good to hear back from you, last summer all the worms I saw were free of parasites. However it seems some of the older trees that once had worms according to the owners no longer have them, I do not know the reason for that. One bunch of younger trees say 10 to 12 years old on one property actually got hit by worms twice. First bunch ate all the leaves then after tree leafed out again was hit by a second crop, that is the first time I had knowledge of that happening. We don't see many wild trees here, whether in years past many of the larger trees were cut for timber or fence posts and younger trees did not come back. I'm wondering if once natural burning or prescribed burning helped the Catalpa population as it seems the seed needs full sun to germinate.Kevin Campbell, Campbell Family Nursery
Kevin........ When you speak of parasites, you mean those little elongated white cocoons that appear on the worms? I sometimes see that. I did an article on that parasite in one of the past issues of The Catalpa Farmer I used to publish. I have seen and identified the same parasite on other wild caterpillars. It is a small wasp looking insect that injects their egg into their skin that causes that. I gave the species name in the article. If you ever want to see what they look like, carefully remove some of the cocoons. Place them in a canning jar. Instead of the sealing lid, just put a paper towel across the jar, then use the screw band to hold it on. They will hatch out and you will see them. I usually just leave them in there until I am sure they are dead....grin. I also remove every one I see and place them in a jar with a tight lid so they die. You don't want any of these around for next year.
To have no worms means that the next year's moths did not return to lay eggs. Most obvious reason for this, all worms were eaten by predators and none made it in the ground. I have many times watched an egg clutch waiting for them to hatch. Go out one morning and every young worm is gone. It will make you mad. To have a next year's crop, you must have some of the worms go into the ground and appear as moths the next year. You never collect all of the worms for fishing. You must leave some for next year's crop. You can start your worms again by just placing about 10 worms on your trees, and they mature and go down into the ground. They usually do this at night. These will appear as the Catalpa Sphinx Moths the next year and lay their eggs during the night.
The tree itself needs good sun. I have lost many because their areas became too shady. They like full sun and good drainage. The seeds like it warm. 95 F gives best germination. I will be posting up some of these emails to perhaps alert others to what is going on in the World Of Catalpas.....
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
Subj: Catalpa trees and worms
Date: 5/7/2011 7:07:00 PM Central Daylight Time
I was surfing the net and saw your article on Catalpa trees and worms. I live in the western piedmont of North Carolina near Catawba county and the Catalpa river where the Indian tribe and tree were named. I also am a nurseryman that grows plants native to the southeastern US. I grew up fishing with Catalpa worms and I grow small Catalpa trees to sell to fisherman in my area. Many younger than 40 do not know what the worms and the tree are! If you need some seed next fall let me know I have this years seedlings sprouting now. We do not have many wild Catalpas in this area anymore. There are a few large trees over 100 years old I have found at a couple very old homesteads. Most of the rest have been transplanted by fisherman in the last 40 yrs or so.
Campbell family nursery
118 crater road
Harmony nc 28634
Kevin Campbell, Campbell Family Nursery
Kevin Campbell..........Thank you for your response and your offer of Catalpa Tree Seeds. It just so happens, I have plenty of seeds. You did not mention anything about what the status of the Catalpa Worms were in your said area. I would like to hear about this. I am having great troubles with wasp and Rain Crows myself this year. I am having a little luck transferring worms to secluded trees. An old timer once told me that he thought the
Rain Crow could smell them out no matter where they were. I am beginning to think he was right.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele
Subj: Catalpa Trees
Date: 4/27/2011 2:12:33 PM Central Daylight Time
I was born in 1942.
I live in south central Arkansas. I moved here in 1972.
There use to be an abundance of catalpa trees in this area.
A few of the old timers and I would use the worms for fishing.
I've stopped on my way to fish and harvest a few worms on a tree on the side of the road to use as catfish bait.
I don't see many of the trees anymore. What I do see don't have the worms on them.
I came upon a few catalpa trees near the Ouachita River at an old lock &dam. I didn't have a shovel with me so I pulled two smaller ones up and brought them home. That was about three years ago.
I set the two trees out (one in my front yard and one at the back of our house) and they seem to be doing quite well.
I ran across your very informative article while searching for a way to get worms started on my trees.
Do you know how to get worms started?
I have attached pictures of my trees.
I am a member of the Arbor Day Society but I don't remember seeing Catalpa trees in their catalog.
I love trees especially the Catalpa.
Charles..........Thank you for your message. I always enjoy talking to people about Catalpa Trees and Worms. You letter will be placed in our files.
Yes, there is a way to get the worms on your trees. You will, however, have to have plenty of leaves and good sized trees to allow this to happen. A couple trees that are only 2 to 5 feet tall will not be enough. What happens is, the worms will eat all of the leaves before they reach full size. This means they cannot go into the ground and change into moths. They all will die and there will not be a future generation from that crop.
If you had several large trees, you could place worms on them. As they mature, they go into the ground and come forth the next year as moths, and lay their eggs on the tree, causing the next generation.
Your report of sightings and the lack of worms is now a common occurrence. Thus indicating that the Catalpa Tree and their worms are becoming endangered as I reported in my article.
Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
Hello-I have a story much like yours. My grandparents had two giant Catalpa Trees with those almost mythical black and yellow worms. My Grandfather died almost 20 years ago and made me promise (when I was then about 17) to keep his property in the family. Well, long story short a few years ago I bought my aunts and uncles out and purchased along with the property these mythical trees and their worms. Unfortunately, the property had been overgrown and a mangles mess in the 20 years since my Granddad was living. My grandmother's Ivy had crawled from the old house and up onto the tree strangling all but its tops. I had the trees cut down by a professional tree cutter who swears it is the largest Catalpa he has ever seen. We have counted 150 rings!!! Yes 150 years old! They were two huge trees. I argued much with my husband about it, but I won in insisting the stumps stay put as a monument to my Grandparents and these remaining trees. Much to my surprise another Catalpa tree has sprung up nearby. I have also saved all the "string beans" from the former catalpa (thus, I have seeds - I can send you some if you like) AND my trees are starting to grow back from the stumps... they are unstoppable! To my surprise their worms have returned as well. In time for season. They are not as large as when they had an entire 100+ ft tree to consume, but I have seen them and their moths. I hate worms! Nevertheless, like you, I believe the Catalpa is a special tree. Let me know if I can do anything to help- like take pictures or send some seeds. I am in St.Mary's County MD - just north of Richmond. Sincerely, Monica
Miss Monica.....thank you for that wonderful story. I will post it up at our Catalpa Page. I am glad the trees and worms still live on. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC
I have recently started growing a few catalpa worm trees and now have a 8 foot tree with worms on it. I am thrilled. A friend gave me a cutting from their tree and it has thrived since I planted it. My problem is ants. I live in Nashville, Georgia, and the ants seem to want to take over. Do you have a suggestion to help save my budding worm population? I am reluctant to use any heavy poisons because I don't want to harm my worms. Any suggestions would be appreciated. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teresa….You do have to be careful when using any poisons or insect sprays around any trees that have worms on them. Yes, ants, along with many other predators, can be a real problem. I have seen fire ants grabbing the little worms as they first emerge from their egg. You can take Vaseline and rub it ALL around the trunk of the tree, about 3 to 4 inches above the ground. This will set up a barrier so they cannot go up the tree. Also, make sure no vines touch or grow on the tree. They will use these many times to get on the tree. If you find an ant hill close to the tree, I use a little gas just to run them out hoping they move a little further from the tree. You don’t want to put anything in the ground around the tree because the worms will be going into that ground to change into moths. The gas seems to clear from the area after a few days. Some poisons can linger for long periods of time and kill the worms that go into the ground.
For all others away from any trees, I take a good tool iron (use anything to make a deep hole down in the mound’s center, and pour gas down the whole. Then cover the entire hive. Do not light to burn. The killing fumes last longer. If there are any survivors and you see them making a new hill close by. Hit them again with the same gas treatment. Good question. I will post it at our Catalpa Thread. Stephen L. Peele
I find small white things on my Catalpa Worms. We were wondering what these white things were? We guessed they were parasitic or part of the cycle.
My frontier email does not work right. I was unable to view pictures. In the future, always use email@example.com for emails. However, I know what you speak of. They are small parasitic wasp that inject their eggs into the worm. Their small larvae stage grow inside the catalpa worm, then emerge thru the skin and build the white cocoon. I always pick them off of the worm and smash them dead to help prevent future generations. Depending on how many, the catalpa worms can many times survive. Remove them carefully as not to make large holes where their body fluids come out. I might post this question up on our site with your email address. If this is not okay with you, please let me know. Thank You, Stephen L. Peele
Have you any knowledge about growing off young catalpa worms to picking size in some sort of cage? I am wondering if this could successfully be done. If you concentrated on tending these young worms in a cage that you could totally control predators just think how many worms you could produce off just 1 tree.
Covering the tree with a fine, lite, net or screen works. The problem with growing the worms anywhere else other than on the tree is, the worm's water intake and food. Even if you pick the leaves and put them in a cage, their large surface area allows all the water to evaporate very quickly. So quickly, that the leaves have to be replaced every 30 minutes.....night and day. Even if this is done, there is much waste with dried leaves that never get eaten. If not done, the worms die. Depending on the size of your Catalpa Tree, dictates how many worms can be successfully grown on it. Highest Regards, Stephen L. Peele, Curator FMRC, Catalpa Division