A week ago I was having lunch with my logger buddies Shane and Dan in a Hillsboro pizza joint when they told me I had a caterpillar on my shoulder. It was a Saddled Prominent!
I have not seen one of these rascals since 1981 when there was a defoliation of sugar maples and beech trees in the Sunapee - New London area. It was pretty devastating if you ever heard about it or saw it. I was working with a company spraying Gypsy Moths in the spring during that time and we turned to spraying these pests later in the summer.
Then a day or so later I spotted a Saddled Prominent in my driveway in Deering and saw another in its spiny stage in the Town of Washington last Thursday.
Here is how the State of Maine describes these caterpillars on their web site:
Description and Habits
Adults of the saddled prominent are brownish-gray moths, with a wing spread of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. They emerge from early June to mid-July from pupae that passed the winter within the upper 2 inches of the soil and leaf litter.
Eggs are laid individually and mostly on the underside of hardwood leaves from mid-June to mid-July. Hatching takes place after 9-10 days. The majority of the eggs usually have hatched by the middle of July in Maine.
Larvae, at first, appear as very tiny reddish-brown "antlered," spiny caterpillars. When the larvae molt for the second stage they lose the "antlers" and are smooth-skinned, except for 2 small horns behind the head. During later stages they lose these horns and are generally of a yellowish-green color. The last stages have a prominent saddle-shaped patch of contrasting red to brown colors on the mid-back. Larvae at this stage resemble those of the variable oakleaf caterpillar but the saddle is much more distinct and mature larvae occur much earlier (July). At maturity, some 5 weeks after hatching when the larvae are about 1 1/2 inches long, they drop or crawl to the ground to pupate.
Stripping of hardwood stands appears to take place suddenly during the latter part of July and in August. However, feeding by the first few stages of the caterpillars usually goes unnoticed. Upon hatching, the tiny larvae are found feeding on the underside of the leaves where they merely skeletonize small patches (windows). The second and third stages then start feeding along the leaf margins and start to consume entire leaves except for the larger veins and stems. As they grow larger, the larvae accelerate their consumption of food with much wasteful feeding, and when present in large numbers cause rapid defoliation.
Rapid is the key word! Plus we had a late spring in NH this year and these defoliation times may be off a bit.
So if you have some favorite sugar maples or beech trees in your yard. Take a look up at the leaves from the ground and see if you notice some rolled cigarette sized figures nibbling at the edges or find a bunch of brown granular “stuff” all over your car. If you are in the Sunapee Washington region it may be these guys back for another bite at the maple.
It may not pay to spray the top of your trees but you can certainly put a duct tape barrier with some sticky stuff like Vaseline or insecticide soaked cloth around the base.
These guys get big fast and walk from tree to tree unlike gypsy moths who can hang on silk for a while and go airborne when they are young.
If your tree does get stripped you can feed it before winter and cut the damage the Saddled Prominent do. Unlike Gypsy Moths who strip leaves in the spring when they can grow back to feed the tree this SP damage occurs in late summer and the new leaves get frozen before they can do much good.
Heads up. It could be next year we get hit as well. It is a native species as far as I know so I would assume they will be back in force some time.
Remember. Trees are not really "killed" by anything like bugs or diseases. They simply starve to death fighting off whatever it is attacking them. In this case the trees would have to be stripped several years in a row to not come back. But why put them through that stress.
Keep and eye on them.