Bagworms!

Bagworms.

The little rascals have lost their childhood appeal now that I’m the one responsible for clearing them from and out of bushes.

I remember (Brother and I) helping Dad pick them from the bushes at church.  It was fun then.

It’s not fun now.

Way back then, before we realized some things we took for fun were really work in disguise, we made a game of everything.  Squeezed just right, the bagworm would pop up halfway out of its little self-made “bag” – a caterpillar, really – and when we released, it would slip back into its bag.  And, if we squeezed them just right, green goo would erupt from the bag….

The bagworms we picked were placed into small paperbags as we picked them. And, when the bag was full, we sealed it.  The filled bags went home with us and Dad built a fire, much to our delight.  And, he allowed us to toss the bagworm filled bags into the flames.  The fragrance was that of evergreen boughs burning.

You see, bagworms have the amazing ability to spin a cocoon (bag) and hang it on the branch of an evergreen shrub, like little Christmas tree ornaments.  The inside of the cocoon is silken…soft and super strong.  The outside is decorated with bits of the shrub cut off by the caterpillar and applied as camouflage to the outside.  The caterpillar lives within the cocoon, hence the term “bagworms” and hangs onto the plant as it munches on the tender evergreen boughs.  As the caterpillar grows, the bag grows as well – from teeny tiny to 2 inches long.

When it’s time for the bagworms to “go through the change of life” they secure their cocoon to the branch with silk, and hunker down while change happens.

Only the male moth ever emerges from the bag.  The female cannot fly and remains within the bag, luring the male in with an airborne attractant. They mate and the female lays the eggs within her silken bag – then dies.

The next spring up to 1000 eggs can hatch…up to 1000 tiny bagworms can be released from one bag that overwinters.

From one bag….  What about the 6 empty, well secured bags I recently found attached to the bush from which I plucked a few large bagworms late last Summer?

Apparently I missed a few.

Mom discovered my lapse about two weeks ago when she noticed the tip top of a particular evergreen bush appeared brown while the rest was green and lush…the same bush from which I plucked bagworms last year.

“Bagworms,” she uttered with disgust.

A quick check confirmed her diagnosis.

Bagworms.  There were numerous tiny bagworms – too small to attempt to pluck from the top of the 8 ft tall shrub.

I poked around in Dad’s shed and came up with a sprayer and Malathion.  A liberal spraying of the infected plant should take care of things, I surmised. After all, they were small, young and tender.

And, so I sprayed, wetting the foliage and the bagworms (as much as possible, the little rascals hide within the boughs).

Two weeks passed and a quick check revealed larger, more abundant, healthier bagworms.  Apparently the Malathion had no affect on them, or I misapplied it.

I grabbed an empty plastic Maxwell House coffee container (the type with the handle and large mouth) and the ladder.  Then, I headed out to the tallest bush in Mom’s yard.

For over an hour I picked bagworms and dropped them into the coffee container.  Wish I’d counted – some were tiny…so tiny I could only feel them, as I moved my hands over the plant, searching for the illusive bags.  Others were 1/2 inch long.  When I finished, the coffee container was over half full of the small, wiggling, climbing bagged creatures – many of which were intent on crawling up and out of their prison.

Don’t think me cruel, but I slapped the lid on the container and set it on the driveway pavement – in full sun.  Yes – I steamed the rascals…baked their little brains.

What once had been fun, was now only work – with more work ahead of me as I keep vigilance for more bagworms.

You can be certain that when summer ends this year, there will be no bags left to winter over.  And, I’ll have a fresh bottle of Malathion ready come Spring.

And – come the end of May, I’ll spray that bush and the one next to it in hope of killing any hatchlings before they don their little bags and become impervious to chemical assault.

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