The fall cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria, is a native defoliating insect found throughout much of North America. The caterpillar stage of these insects is often referred to as inchworms or loopers. Fall cankerworms feed on a wide variety of trees but tend to prefer maples, hickories, ashes, and oaks, all of which are found in abundance throughout Fairfax County. Fall cankerworm caterpillars emerge in early spring and feed on leaves for about a month. Once the caterpillars mature, they drop off the trees, enter the soil, and pupate. You can look for the wingless females and their egg masses on the trunks of trees in January and February.
Infestations in Fairfax County
Severe infestations of cankerworms can cause widespread defoliation, tree stress and possible tree death. Major infestations and defoliation have occurred in Fairfax County: In the past, up to 5,000 acres have been defoliated by cankerworms.
Urban foresters will continue to monitor fall cankerworm populations and develop suppression programs as warranted.
Fall cankerworm female moth laying eggs
For further information, or if you find signs of this insect on your property, contact the Fairfax County Forest Pest Branch at 703-324-5304, TTY 711, or via e-mail.