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FAQ City: What Happened To Charlotte's Cankerworms?

City of Concord. NC

Editor's note: A version of this story was originally published in June 2018.

Does it seem like something's missing around Charlotte? Something small, green, or brown? Listener Hope Nicholls thinks so. She wrote in to FAQ City wondering about what seemed to be a total absence of cankerworms this spring.

"It was just a stupefying lack of worms," she said," Like, I think I saw two — two this past spring."

That's a big deal for longtime Charlotteans. We've had a cankerworm problem since at least the late 1980s. Untold masses of the little worms have gobbled up our tree canopy's precious leaves, leaving many trees weak and sometimes dead.

In 2008, the infestation got so bad, the city resorted to bombing them from the skies — to no avail. The worms returned year after year, and seemingly in greater numbers.

Which makes this year all the more strange. What caused the worms to disappear?

On this episode of FAQ City, we run through the possibilities with three entomologists (bug scientists), including Charlotte's assistant city arborist, Laurie Reid, who's been keeping a loose worm count over the last few years.

The answer, as we find out, likely comes down to three words: late spring frost.

Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
Laurie Reid, Charlotte's assistant city arborist

Special thanks to Laurie Reid, Charlotte's fearless assistant city arborist, to Stanley Schneider of UNC Charlotte and to Derek Johnson of Virginia Commonwealth University. Thanks also to the National Weather Service's Greenville-Spartenburg office, which helped with research for this story.

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Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
Hope Nicholls


Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. He work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal