Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

Insects That Look Like Pine Needles

Jupiterimages/ Images

Many insects have developed natural camouflage to protect them from birds and other predators. Larvae and other insects, particularly those that feed on coniferous trees, often take on the shape, coloring or pattern of pine needles.

Stick Insect (Phasmida)

stick insect image by vladislav susoy from

Stick insects, or walking sticks, are usually brown or green, and range in size from ½ to 21 inches long. Though the narrow insects are often compared to twigs, the green ones bear a strong resemblance to pine needles, especially when they hold their legs close to their bodies. Besides using camouflage as a defense mechanism, stick insects can “play dead” or shed a limb to thwart predators.

Brimstone Moth Caterpillar (Opisthograptis Luteolata)

Brimstone moth caterpillars are usually brown, but sometimes take on a green coloring. These larvae can reach lengths of about 33 mm, and have a bump protruding from their sixth segment. To blend in with a tree’s natural needles or twigs, brimstone moth caterpillars can “stand” on a tree branch and extend their bodies outward.

Pine Sawfly Larva (Zadiprion)

Pine sawfly larvae are yellow green or dark green with black, tan or orange heads. They feed on pine trees in the Southwest, feeding on the outer tissues of pine needles. Adult pine sawflies lay their eggs inside of pine needles. The larvae tend to attack the same specific trees year after year, leading to slower tree growth or death.

Pine Butterfly Larva (Neophasia menapia)

Pine butterfly larvae are 2.5 cm long, and dark green with white stripes and light green heads. They are often confused with pine sawfly larvae, as both insects feed on and resemble pine needles. Like pine sawfly larvae, they are considered pests, as they have contributed to defoliation in the Pacific Northwest.

Bugs That Strip Needles Off Of Pine Trees

Pine needle weevils (Scythropus) chew notches along the length of pine needles causing them to brown and fall off. To control an infestation, cut away and destroy affected limbs or do nothing and the problem should resolve itself. The adults are 1/2 inch long or shorter, are dark in color, have two pairs of wings and a wasp-like appearance. Infestations are usually small and short-lived – between 2 and 5 years -- but have the potential to spread over large areas causing serious defoliation that stunts growth and kills trees. The males are white and females are yellowish; they both have black wing markings. The caterpillar of the silver-spotted tiger moth (Halsidota argentata) strips the pine needles off of Douglas fir trees. As most infestations are gone within one or two years, you don’t need to apply insecticide, but you could release predatory Tachinid flies. Otherwise, let this problem solve itself naturally.

Garden Guides