Caterpillar Causing Oak Trees to Lose Leaves Overnight

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.- It's officially the first day of fall, but that's not why leaves are falling across Garland county.

"It sounds like it's raining outside," says Allen Bates, U of A Horticulture Agent for Garland county.

If you stand under an oak tree in Garland county right now, you'll probably notice something falling on your head, but it isn't rain.  It's caterpillar droppings and even the insects themselves.

"There's lot of oak trees and virtually some of them all you see left on there are the acorns," says Bates.  "The leaves are completely gone."

It's actually the variable oak leaf caterpillar.  They eat the leaves of the oak trees, usually around this time of year, then spend the winter under the leaf litter.  The caterpillars come back as moths in spring to lay eggs in the oak trees, continuing the life cycle.

"This year we have an abundance of them," says Bates.

Bates says just since Monday he's gotten close to a hundred phone calls from folks concerned about the sudden shedding of the leaves and the insect infestation.

"The loss of leaves is the main thing the caterpillars do and it's not going to be very detrimental to your tree."

Bates warns people not to touch them because the caterpillars excrete an acid for protection which could give you a minor burn or blister.  Other than that it's mainly the mess that's the issue.

Also they aren't this plentiful every year.  Bates says the last time they saw a large number of the caterpillars was in 2013.  

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