Catalpa Worm

      Photo Credit –

                Common throughout our region is the catalpa tree. Usually found alongside roadways and around old homesteads it is a valued ornamental for its large green leaves and fragrant springtime flowers. There is however another use for these trees.

                The Catalpa Worm or Catawba worm is a large caterpillar that may grow from 2 to 3 inches long. It is the larval form of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, Ceratomia catalpa, which is a large moth with a wingspan of nearly 3 inches. While common they are not frequently seen as they mostly fly at night.

                The catalpa moth deposits clumps of eggs numbering from 100 to 1000 on the underside of leaves. Once the young caterpillars hatch they are light yellow to whitish in color and grow rapidly. Adding a bit more color each time they molt some larger caterpillars may have a solid black band down their back. Following the final molt or instar the caterpillar will go into a “wandering stage” where it will find a suitable place to go underground and pupate. In this area there are usually multiple broods per year. If it is one of the earlier broods this pupa will hatch into a mature moth in a few weeks. If it is the last brood of the year then this is the form that will overwinter and emerge as an adult the following spring once foliage is present for food.  

                Catalpa worms are specific feeders. They will not feed on any other leaves other than that of the catalpa tree. With a heavy infestation these trees may sometimes be defoliated but this seems to not damage the tree as they will soon leaf out again.

                Well known for their excellence as fish bait, catalpa worms are gathered by many for this use. There is actually a small market where they are farmed and preserved for use as such. They even hold up fairly well frozen for a few weeks.


© 2015 Jack Glisson of

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 07/08/2015


Green Ash

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                Driving around this region during early summer one may have noticed wads of light green seeds hanging in several trees. The ones shown above belong to the Green Ash Tree, scientific name Fraxinus pennsylvanica.

                One of our native trees the green ash is common throughout our area, preferring low lying or waste areas. The white ash however tends to grow in mature forest.

                The lumber of both trees is tough and has many uses. One of the best known uses for white ash is for baseball bats and longbows. Wood from both trees make good tool handles and both are widely used in making electric guitar bodies.

                Besides the lumber being useful, the seeds are important mast crops for several species of birds, mice and squirrels.

© 2015 Jack Glisson of

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 07/15/2015


Eastern Kingsnake

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                The eastern Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula, can be quite varied in coloration throughout our region. Sub-species can vary from the black kingsnake which may be found in far Eastern Kentucky to the speckled kingsnake from Misouri and near the Mississippi River. Just like the name implies the black kingsnake is solid black above while the speckled kingsnake has a white or yellow colored speck on each scale. In between there are any number of variations but most show a chain like pattern on a black background. The amount of white in the chain pattern and specks are what varies and this snake is generally thought to be an intergrade of the previous two mentioned sub-species. All of these snakes have a few things in common, smooth and shiny scales and a light colored belly with square darker colored blotches.

                Even to folks that don’t like snakes in general the kingsnake should be considered a friend. They eat a variety of food including rats and mice, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and yes, even other snakes. The kingsnake is immune to the venom of local pit vipers and therefore will readily prey on them.

                Kingsnakes lay from six to twenty eggs. The young are marked similar to adults but the light colored pattern is brighter.

                These snakes are not aggressive unless provoked. Beneficial around farms and homes due to their predation on mice and venomous snakes these docile snakes are better left alone.

© 2015 Jack Glisson of

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 07/22/2015


Double-crested Cormorant

© 2015 Jack Glisson of

                Usually seen flying low over the water or floating along is the Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus. These birds are fairly common along all the major waterways and lakes in this area. If one looks in some of the bird books however this part of the country is listed as a winter haven or migratory stop. As seen in this photo though, they do have breeding colonies in Western Kentucky.

                These cormorants are pretty easy to recognize. When setting in water they ride low in the surface and usually fly just above the water surface. They dive to catch fish and after feeding may be found perching on some surface with wings spread to dry out.

                The name Double-crested comes from two tufts of feathers on each side of the head. However these tufts are only seen during breeding season.

                Nesting colonies are usually found over water or perhaps on small islands. Nests are constructed mostly of sticks and anywhere from one to seven eggs are laid. Depending on the season and location one to two broods may be raised.

                Feeding almost exclusively on fish they are well equipped with webbed feet to aid in diving for the capture.

                Cormorants have less oil for their feathers than other water birds. This is one reason they set so low in the water and when taking off to fly look like they are running on the surface until they can gain flight. This is also the reason they can frequently be found setting with their wings stretched, drying them out.

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 07/29/2015