A few questions for the gross little worms
Learn about leafrollers and their sticky bodies as they invade Tampa Bay.
An oak leafroller inches across a pollen-speckled window in Clearwater. This caterpillar is the immature or larval stage of the oak moth.
An oak leafroller inches across a pollen-speckled window in Clearwater. This caterpillar is the immature or larval stage of the oak moth. [ Times (2004) ]
Published March 15|Updated March 15

Hey. Psst. Little green worm. What the (censored) are you?

I’m your worst nightmare, jerk.

No, really.

Scientifically speaking, I am an oak leafroller. Some of my friends are called oak leaftiers. I hatch from moth eggs that have been lurking in your trees all year. Yeah, that’s right, your trees are full of eggs! Icked out yet? Good, just wait. Personality-wise, I am a sadist. I live for chaos.

Why are you all over the place? Why are you falling, sticking to our shoulders and crawling inside the … the … the … collars of our shirts?

You don’t think we’re cute?


We can’t hurt you.

I know, but …

It’s spring, baby! This is our time! March brings some of the most beautiful, temperate weather to Tampa Bay and all of Florida. If you don’t have someone like me to rough up 75-and-sunny, you’ll take the good life for granted. Frankly, you guys act spoiled, walking around with your tumblers of icy white wine, staring off at the foliage of parks to contemplate the existence of a higher power. Look up. We’re your higher power, kiddo. Hear that rustling, like rain? That’s us, pooping sheets of frass into your hair while you stroll under your favorite oak trees.

Wait. That noise is your … poop?

You were expecting Mozart? Bieber?

I need to lie down.

Look, you Floridians complain when it’s hot, complain when it’s cold, complain when it’s rainy, complain when it’s dry, complain when too many people come to visit you. I am here to keep you humble. I am here to zipline into your nose holes every few feet of your bike ride, to ride shotgun all the way back to your primary bedroom completely undetected, to show up on your salad leaf moments before mouth impact. I’m here to haunt your dreams, prove that the environment is still basically functioning, then head out.

But why do you have to rappel from the trees like Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible”?

It’s dope, isn’t it? Tom Cruise is a part-time Floridian, and we are very good friends.


Fine. We weigh, what, a fraction of a fraction of an ounce? Wind, rain, animals, whatever, they knock us around, so we hang from our web like elegant tree chandeliers. Wouldn’t you? Then we hit the ground to pupate.

Excuse me … pupate?

Well, yeah. Did the school system really fail you this badly? Don’t answer that. As caterpillars, we’re larvae. We often drop down to the ground for some peace and privacy — ever think we don’t like seeing you? Then we transform into pupas before we become moths, at which point we spend the rest of our lives partying in porch lights and trying not to get eaten by birds. Then our deranged offspring start this whole scream-cycle all over again.

Sick. What do you eat?

You know. Tacos on Tuesday. The leaves and flowers of oak trees. It is our great pleasure in life to defoliate trees until we’re so juicy we need to unpop our pants. You know the saying: Here for a good time, not a long time.

How can you manage to hold onto a car windshield for so many miles? It’s honestly impressive.

Thank you for saying this. No one ever asks us about the power of our slime. I mean it. It really means a lot.

Source: University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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