Worms on the Brain
(Or at Least on My Head)
Rumor has it that Sir Isaac Newton happened on to the discovery
of gravity as he napped under an apple tree and was awakened by the thunk
of a falling apple on his head. Had Sir Isaac been sitting under a
deciduous northern Minnesota tree sometime in the last three weeks, the
only discovery that he might have made about descending matter was that
Army Worms don't taste all that great when they land in the mouth of a
What is the deal with all these things anyway? The plague has reached
near Biblical proportions here. Didn't Pharaoh let Moses' people go already,
or are they still hidden somewhere in Lake of the Woods county? It's bad
enough that we have to vote the Democratic ticket each year, why do we
need to be tortured with such an infestation, as well?
So, in an effort to ease my paranoid conclusion that this crawling pestilence
was sent strictly for my displeasure, I pursued a few facts on the caterpillars
and found that there are some bright sides.
For instance, you can be happy to know that despite the fact
that the bulk of the trees in your yard look like they belong in a Stephen King
movie, there will be little permanent damage to their long-term health.
In most cases, leaves will regrow by midsummer. Meanwhile, the added
sunlight to new places in the yard should allow an opportunity for grass
to gain a root hold where it never could before.
You can be happy for the bird population, which thrives during
years of Army Worm invasions. The caterpillar hatch coincides with the bird
hatch, allowing for an avian feast of rare magnitude. This might explain why
the times at your backyard bird feeder seem so quiet lately. All the cute little
American Goldfinches that clamored there a week ago are now lying belly-up
on the branch of some secluded, defoliated tree frantically doing sit-ups in an
effort to flatten out that gluttonous worm-gut before the females show for the
late June mating season.
You can be happy for the forest floor, too, which is getting a
flash dose of fresh soil and fertilizer. All those thousands of tiny brown
dots which cover the hood of your car each morning, you see, are piles
of worm dung. A perfect recycling machine, the Army Worms decompose an
entire tree's worth of leaves in a matter of hours, constantly eating
and then dropping the digested leaves onto the forest floor, the hood of
your car, or whatever else may stroll casually underneath. Kind of
makes you want to wash your hair more often, doesn't it.
You can be happy when you see the worms crawling on your house
and your car and your kids because when they're crawling around, out of a tree,
it means they've pretty much completed their growth process and are now
just looking for a place to roll into a cocoon. This is, of course, the
precursor to the moth stage which is when the eggs are laid and the time
when future generations of creepy, hairy caterpillars are established.
In short, even though they might not be out to eat any more of your
ornamental Crabapple Trees, it is still advisable to squish as many of
the suckers as is possible because each one that lives offers up the
potential for 250 more next year!.
And you better be happy about the number of Army Worms presently
bothering your life, because odds are pretty good they'll be worse next
year, which is supposed to be their cyclic peak.
And if none of this makes you happy, and you continue to sit
inside, with the windows closed, complaining about this plague of worms, well
there's hope on the horizon. It'll all be over in just a few short
weeks-just in time for the Mayfly hatch.