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Tuesday - December 29, 2009

From: Natural bridge Caverns, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Caterpillars on young bluebonnet plants in Comal Co., TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Due to much needed recent rains our bluebonnets are coming on beautifully. Today however when looking at what I thought was frost damage noticed caterpillars that start eating from the center and work their way out. There is a picture of one on a bluebonnet on your website but not identified. They resemble a bag worm with more orange. If harmful to plant what is the best organic way to deal with them?

ANSWER:

We found the picture to which you were referring in our database (see below). However, it looks as though it is on a mature plant, with browning seed pods, so it may not be the same caterpillar. This page of pictures of the Genista brown moth caterpillar (Uresiphita reversalis) is from the TAMU Horticultural Gardens at Texas A&M University. From the same source, here is a page of Texas caterpillars, with 38 illustrations.

Further research indicated that this caterpillar targets legumes, including the bluebonnet. Another target of this caterpillar is the Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel), again, a legume.  Sometimes, it is referred to as the "Sophora worm" and we found a website under that name from the Maricopa (Arizona) County Cooperative Extension services. Our first choice in organic control of this caterpillar would be hand-picking and squishing it; excuse the technical term.  The article we referred to includes treatment by BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), with instructions for its application. These instructions infer that Spring is the time when this caterpillar should be treated, so you will need to make your own decision on whether this critter is threatening your bluebonnets now.

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