(Linden Looper, Bruce Spanworm, Spiny Looper, Fall Cankerworm)

Erannis tiliaria (Harris), Operophtera bruceata (Hulst), Phigalea titea (Cram.), and Alsophila pometaria (Harris)

Hanson, T., and E. B. Walker. [n.d.] Field guide to common insect pests of urban trees in the Northeast. Waterbury, VT: Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

Lepidoptera: Geometridae

Hosts: Maple, oak, linden, beech, apple, birch, elm, hickory and other hardwoods

Evidence: In the spring, look for larvae that move in typical inchworm fashion. Linden loopers are dull-to-brightly yellow-sided (a). Bruce spanworm larvae are variable in color, ranging from vivid green to dark brown, with three thin yellow lines on each side of the body (b). Spiny loopers are pinkish with hairy tubercles and black lines running their length (c), and fall cankerworm larvae range from very light green to dark brownish-green. The head and anal segments are also variable in color, ranging from pale green to black or mottled. Darker larvae may have a longitudinal black stripe, while lighter color forms have white lines running their length (d). Though larger loopers tend to feed voraciously, consuming all but the mid rib and larger veins, younger larvae may work as skeletonizers (eg., fall cankerworm) or give leaves the appearance of Swiss cheese (eg., Bruce spanworm).

Life Cycles: Each of these loopers has one generation per year. Winter is spent in the egg stage, with the exception of the spiny looper, which overwinters as a pupa beneath litter. The adult female moths of all four loopers are wingless, and, with the exception of the spiny looper, moths are active into the fall, when females may be seen crawling up the base of trunks. With the spiny looper, adults emerge and mate in the spring.

Management: These species of loopers are often found in association with each other. Parasites and disease are credited with keeping them in check, though periodic epidemics occur. Urban trees appear to be especially susceptible to heavy feeding by some species of loopers. Sticky bands around tree trunks will protect isolated trees by preventing females from crawling up to lay eggs. Insecticides, including Bacillus thuringiensis, are effective once larvae begin to feed on leaves.

a. Linden looper larvae tend to eat only a partion of a leaf before moving to another.

b. Though bruce spanworm can be variable in coloration, all have distinct white lines on the back and sides.

c. Larvae of Phigalia are sometimes called "spiny loopers" because of the hairy tubercles on each segment.

d. Fall cankerworm larvae complete feeding by the end of June, and drop to the ground to pupate.

Photo Credits:

Figure a: E. Bradford Walker, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Waterbury, VT.

Figure b: E. Bradford Walker, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Waterbury, VT.

Figure c: E. Bradford Walker, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Waterbury, VT.

Figure d: E. Bradford Walker, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Waterbury, VT.


Drooz, A.T. 1985. Insects of Eastern Forests. USDA Forest Service Miscellaneous Publication 1426. p 188-189, 193-194;

Johnson, W.T. and Lyon, H.H. 1991. Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs. 2nd edition. Cornell University Press. p 142-146;

Martineau, R. 1984. Insects Harmful to Forest Trees. Agriculture Canada Government Publishing Centre, Supply and Services, Ottawa. p 156-162;

Rose, A.H. and Lindquist, O.H. 1982. Insects of Eastern Hardwood Trees. Canadian Forest Service Publication, Forestry Technical Report 29. p 110-113.

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