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September 17, 1996

It does no good to keep telling myself that I will not become unduly upset at the gross proliferation of webworms. They still seriously bug me. They're like some of our unprincipled politicians this year -- you can't ignore them. For one thing, I don't like their name. "Webworm" has a kind of cool, cozy, sound, like "cricket on the hearth." That's terribly misleading. I prefer to call them what they are -- tree killers.

Working in the yard the other day, I noticed something strange on the trunk of our pin oak tree. It appeared to be a strip of grayish matter about an inch wide and maybe three feet long, moving slowly, vertically up the trunk of the tree starting about 18 inches from the ground. A closer look disclosed that it was a procession of webworms seemingly moving in lockstep toward the upper branches where lush, green leaves awaited them. The grayish strip consisted of three parallel rows of webworms marching like soldiers in orderly ranks, eager to devour one of my favorite trees. I counterattacked with massive doses of insect spray and proclaimed victory, but then I observed two or three small colonies already had been established on some of the lower branches. I'll have to get rid of them, too.

You can cut them out of your tree and destroy the branches or spray them with some of the recommended insecticides, but don't try burning the webs while they're still in the tree. You're liable to set the whole thing on fire and perhaps some nearby property as well. If you cut out the infected branches, don't leave them on the ground. Burn them in a protected environment or wrap them in plastic and dispose of them in a landfill. If not burned or securely wrapped, they'll migrate from branches left on the ground to any nearby tree. If you spray, the web itself must be penetrated to be effective. It does no good to spray the outside of those cocoons. The insecticide won't penetrate unless a hole of some kind has been poked into the web. That's how tightly they're spun.

Or, you can leave them unmolested and watch your beautiful trees being devoured by some unpleasant, munching little creatures.

It is just so sad to ponder all the damage these tiny pests are causing around here. Someone suggested that if it weren't for the reality of what they are, those gossamer webs would be considered attractive, almost lace-like. They've been compared to the Spanish moss that decorates many trees in the Deep South. I don't know about that. When you see an entire tree enveloped in a suffocating web, you have to feel a sort of loathing.

This is perhaps the worst invasion of webworms in history, experts tell us, and that's easy to believe. This is the second generation this summer, and the vast numbers of the present crop insure an even larger horde next spring. It seems they've become worse since we had those April showers last August.

Fight 'em any way you can. Don't give up your trees by default. Cut, spray, burn --just find a way to get rid of them and then brace for another invasion in the next cycle. It's the same way with those unprincipled politicians. They're also pretty tough and sometimes seem impervious to our best efforts to make them go away.