|Redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars|
eating mugo pine
Have you checked your mugo pines for hungry redheads this week?
When I checked our one mugo pine last week, all was well. When I checked it again this morning, I found three colonies of redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei) munching away on needles. There must have been 40 or 60 or 100. I didn’t count.
Sawflies are related to wasps and bees, but the adults are small and do not sting. The “saw” part of their name comes from the saw-like ovipositor of the female. The larvae, or caterpillars, are plant feeders and look like hairless caterpillars. They chow down on a variety of pines and can damage, even defoliate, a small tree.
For several years I’ve tried to mechanically control the redheaded caterpillars by handpicking them and dropping them into a bottle of soapy water. But I wasn’t a perfect caterpillar picker, so some always dropped down into the thick pine to return as future generations later in the year or the next spring.
This year I put away the bottle of soapy water and researched on the Internet for a more terminal solution. I began with a search for “Killing redheaded sawfly caterpillars” and from the long list of entries chose “Sawflies of Trees and Shrubs” by the University of Minnesota Extension. I read only the “redheaded” (there are many kinds of sawflies) and “Management” parts.
At the end, the publication gave a thoughtful list of factors to consider and then three ways to control them: mechanical (such as hand-picking), biorational insecticides (insecticidal soap if the caterpillars are very young), and conventional insecticides.
|Dead & dying caterpillars after|
dusting with carbaryl
When I checked on the redheads five hours later, they were busy eating mugo pine needles and singing, “Who’s afraid of the pesticide spray….” I revisited the Minnesota website and chose another weapon, carbaryl, which I had in powder form (brand Sevin). I lightly dusted the colony areas. Two hours later: All visible caterpillars were dead.
During future, regular walkabouts of my garden, I’ll check the mugo pine for new infestations because redheads seem to have spring and autumn generations here in central Maryland. Walking periodically through your garden to observe what’s happening is a good way to keep pests and other problems under control.