John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 21, 2009

John Howell Sr.

WD-40 too much for caterpillars invading on Laurel Street

We’re in the middle of caterpillar wars on Laurel Street in Uptown New Orleans. Katrina’s aftermath removed the trees shading the yard next door, and it has been allowed to grow up in weeds and cannas where caterpillars can incubate with impunity.

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The recent invaders have been of a non-stinging variety. Others have included the caterpillar of the Io moth whose quills carry a toxin not unlike the toxin of a jellyfish. Rosemary learned the hard way. Then she learned that the best relief is duct tape applied to the site of the sting and then pulled away. The tape pulled with it the tiny quills which will otherwise remain in the skin and continue to ooze their toxin.

But she also learned that the most recent invaders could be mashed in her bare fingers. If at first she was squeamish at the prospect of their oozing, greenish insides, she soon lost it. There were so many that it was just too much trouble for her to find something else to mash them with.

I joined in the fight during a recent weekend but with gloved hands. And WD-40, that wonderful lubricant most often found in dark blue spray cans and good for most anything that does not involve internal consumption.

Nobody has suggested that WD-40 is good for killing caterpillars, but handy was a small, spray can with one of those thin, long tubes for directed application. I aimed the spray at big, black caterpillars crawling up from elderberries and other weeds next door and over to the big angel’s trumpets growing in our yard. I don’t know how toxic the stuff is, but it made them let go and fall to the ground where they are are vulnerable to ants and other caterpillar predators.

With WD-40 we don’t have to guess at the  results. With the various poisons we’ve tried, we can either assume that it had little to no effect or that the creatures would be invading in even greater numbers if we had not used it.

Besides, there’s something very satisfying about seeing those big, fat suckers drop to the ground.

Put down another good use for WD-40. And for duct tape.

And that’s the way things are on Laurel Street in Uptown New Orleans where, since Katrina, the neighbors greatly outnumber the hoods, but the caterpillars and damncats outnumber everything and are gaining ground.