Bagworms: The Mamas and the Papas

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Common bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephaeraeformis) have a wide host range (over 50 plant families), and develop their “bags” from each plant they feed upon. Common bagworm is sometimes called the “evergreen bagworm”, and does perhaps most significantly affect juniper and arborvitae in Ohio, but does feed on many more species than just narrow-leaved evergreens.


Bagworm on honeylocust
Bagworm on honeylocust in Orrville Ohio


One of us (Chatfield) is a plant pathologist, and the other (Boggs) is an entomologist. So, when Chatfield speaks of bagworms, it will not be at the level of scholarly depth and detail we expect of Boggs. In fact Chatfield’s comments on the bagl-alert might be considered a mere bagatelle, with regard to the more robust Boggsian baggage.


To bolster my case, we had a short refresher about bagworms prior to the alert.  Are bagworm caterpillars destined to be males and females from egg hatch? Joe assured me that they are, with full sexual differentiation occurring once they become adults, the male moths mating with females at the tip of the bag. The female then hangs out and dies inside the bag overwinter, along with developing eggs for the next season of infestation.


Can individual bagworm caterpillars feed on more than one kind of plant? Boggs confirms yea.  If for some reason the caterpillar abandons ship then you could indeed have a mixed bag, though almost ever the “ bag” will clearly reflect a monophyotophagous diet.


Bagworm on white pine
This bagworm has incorporated only two needles of this five-needled pine in its bag!


So, view hereof Chat’s B-list bagworm borings: a few images that boggle at least my mind: how interesting the look of the tell-tale Thyridopteryx ephremaeformis “bags” fashioned from their feedings on honeylocust and arborvitae in Orrville earlier this week and from juniper a few years ago at a Pennsylvania rest area.


Closeup of bagworm on honeylocust
In addition to this bagworm on honeylocust, to the right are symptoms of stippling from the honeylocust plant bug complex


HOneylocust on juniper, incorporating juniper "berries"
Bagworm on juniper


Bagworm on arborvitae
And again, using arborvitae foliage for the tell-tale bag


Bagworm on juniper
The beast is out of the bag!  Bagworm caterpillar ready to feed.


Finally, check out the floating island bagworms Chat photographed in the Ozarks a week ago. This image engendered a caterpillar conundrum discussed between Chatfield and Boggs over what probably caused the bagworm detachment from its prandial plant with its seemingly invisible sail: wind (Chatfield call) vs. fleeing from a predator (posited by Boggs).


Bagworm floating in the Ozarks
The floating bagworm of the Ozarks


Bagworm in the Ozarks
An Ozark peregrination interrupted


That discussion is perhaps fodder for a future Frodo to facilitate.  Back to the present, if you are interested in bagworm control: it is too late for this season for insecticides, but a snip with some pruners will do. Perhaps many snips with pruners, as was the effort years ago by ODNR’s Lola Lewis and Cambridge Ohio horticulturists to rid the town’s crabapples of a major infestation.



To conclude for now, from what is widely considered one of the best 100 top (funk, rock, soul, pop) songs of all time, from James Brown in 1965, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”.  As per above, it could have also been from “Mama”, and in fact, would depend upon the host, unless there were two hosts, in which the “bag” truly be “brand new”. 



Papa's got a brand new bag
He's doing the Jerk
He's doing the Fly
Don't play him cheap cause you know he ain't shy
He's doing the Monkey, the Mashed Potatoes, Jump back Jack, See you later



Back in Jim and Joe’s day we probably both danced the “Mashed Potatoes”; of late we perhaps have fewer new dance moves. Or maybe not.



Final Note to Boggs and All:  Bagworms are in the Psychidae family. Whither the name?  Psyche was the princess that attracted the god Eros (Greek) or Cupid (Roman).   The name Psyche represents the Soul.  Wait, I think I’ve got it: there is more to James Brown’s lyrics than I imagined.