Gardening - A Worm Is Not Always A Worm!

A Worm Is Not Always A Worm! 

By Susan Breen, Paulding County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer

Some of the pests in our gardens are the caterpillars (larvae) of butterflies and moths that can be mistaken for worms. There is no distinguishing characteristic to differentiate between caterpillars of butterflies and moths, but both are easily distinguished from a regular worm. Both moths and caterpillars go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Most pests we are concerned with are moth larvae, while worms are beneficial to our gardens. The easiest method to identify a moth is their antennae are feathery, where a butterfly’s antennae are thin with a club like tip. 

Fall Webworms – Hyphantria cunea

fall webwormThese larvae appear in North Georgia as early as June, making the name “fall” a little misleading. They attack hardwood trees, like pecan, mulberry, elm, sweetgum, willow, apple, and oak. If you have an ornamental tree that has the telltale webbing, a long-handled tool, like a broom, can be used to remove their webs.   The worms will fall to the ground and can become a nice treat for the birds! 

Photo by:  Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,


Sawfly larvae

Sawfly larvae, sometimes called roseslug (Endelomyia aethiops) or bristly roseslug (Cladius difformis) are the larvae of small wasps, referred to as sawflies, and are NOT caterpillars! The sawfly family is large with many species. They tend to feed as skeletonizers, their chewing leaves windowpane-like damage; the bristly roseslug, as it matures, will make general chewing holes. Since these pests are NOT in the Lepidopterarose sawfly order, as the moths and butterflies, they cannot be treated with Bt. An effective physical control tactic is to simply pick them off by hand. A forceful spray of water from a hose can also knock off sawflies. Once dislodged, they cannot climb back onto the plant. Horticultural oil, insecticidal soap and azadirachtin (sometimes called “neem oil”) are low-toxicity, natural, organic insecticides that work well on young sawflies. Synthetic insecticides that control sawflies include acephate (Orthene), carbaryl (Sevin), malathion and diazinon. Avoid using insecticidal dusts and spraying flowers, as many insecticides are highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. 

Photo by:  Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Saddleback caterpillar – Acharia stimulea

saddlebackThis beauty is in a group of caterpillars called ‘stinging caterpillars’ that can cause a very painful sting if touched.  The spiny protrusions contain a very irritating poison. Rarely do they cause enough damage in the landscape to require treatment, just be careful. They can be found on roses starting in late July, and other woody ornamentals, usually UNDER the leaf, so check well when pruning.

Photo by:  Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University,

Earth worm

This is a worm! Earthworms are among theearthworm most visible of soil organisms. They play a pivotal role in maintaining the productivity of our soils. They help improve soil aeration, soil organic matter, water infiltration and other properties of soil that make your lawn and garden more productive. 

Photo by: Joseph Berger,

Susan Breen is a Paulding County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer. These Volunteers are trained experts who answer questions about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and environmentally friendly gardening practices using unbiased, research-based information. For more information on gardening in Paulding, contact the Paulding County Cooperative Extension Office at 770-443-7616 or visit online at