The Catalpa Tree
Have you ever noticed a catalpa tree while driving down the highway?  It's like spotting the Griswold family Christmas Tree!  Each tree presents itself as a unique statue that captures the creativity of the Eco-System. The heart shaped leaves are absolutely gorgeous and the larger trees provide a thick layer of shade to guard against the summer rays. The Catalpa Tree is remarkable to me in many ways, it represents a time frame during native American history that stretches into our back yards today. My heritage draws me to pursue the phenomenal domain of the catalpa tree, the mysterious catalpa worm, the beautiful flowering blooms and tons and tons of FRASS!



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Freezing Catalpa Worms

Hey GreenHornz! Have some fun freezing your catalpa worms using the Tawby Worm Tackle Tub! Did you know that catalpa worms can be preserved, then used months later for fishing? I love to hear old tales about how fisherman use catalpa worms for preservation and presentation.

Back in the 60's Nanny Gann used different remedies to preserve the little fellers.  We covered the catalpa worm with a lot of cornmeal to prevent them from sticking together. Put a layer of catalpa leaves in the bottom of a shoe box, then a layer of corn-mealed catalpa worms on top of the leaves-repeat the cycle was until the shoe box is full. Nanny Gann said to start the refrigerator knob on the number 4 and move it up one position each day, at the end of seven days the knob would be on 10 and that box of Tawby's would be ready for the freezer or they were going to the lake that weekend to catch some fat catfish...  Some folks freeze them using saw dust, some folks use corn-meal, some folks even use dirt. Some Tawby farmers have patents for preserving the little fellers. Wow! PaPaw Gann froze them in a zip-lock bag with water and he always had a freezer full of fish! Whatever  method you use be careful and have fun! Our frozen worms are packaged in bubble gum vending machine capsules and then placed inside the Tawby Worm Tackle Tub. We call them our Frozen Frass Force. Before putting the little fellers in the fridge of freezer Frassologists suggest that you feed the worms until they stop eating for the cycle, get them as fat as possible. 

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Catalpa Worms make great fish bait!

Nanny Gann said that catalpa worms were the best fish bait in the whole universe. And, if she said it, it's true! I recall as a young boy catching five Sun-Perch with 1 catalpa worm. She taught me to bite the head off of the Catalpa Worm, then turn it inside out and work in on to the hook. I never had the nerve to bite the head off, the worms were gross enough already. I've used a large wooden match to turn the worms inside-out. Try using a stem from a catalpa leaf, that works great too. You can pinch their head off! And stick the match or stem up their, you get the idea! This application will catch the big catfish and snapping turtles! Great for trot lines! Trout and brim also savor the taste of the catalpa worm so you don't have to turn the little fellers inside out, they are effective both ways. I remember once as a little feller, around 5 years old, Nanny and I were traveling down old 41 toward Nick-A-Jack Lake.  I accidentally left the latch open on the cage of catalpa worms, oops! This was my first Frass Flinging Adventure! As you could imagine, Nanny Gann did not enjoy the adventure as much as I did. She pulled over to the side of the road and helped me round up around 500 frass flingers. If you ever get the chance to go to Nick-A-Jack lake on the Tennessee River be sure and wet a line at Bennett's Lake with a handful of catalpa worms.  Frog gigging and trot lines are some of the memories that I have from the river banks of the Tennessee. PaPaw Gann always had a freezer full of catalpas and bull weeds. We would head out on the river early in the morning to gather the Catfish and Snapping Turtles from the trot lines. I'd be wrapped in an old Army blanket and holding Blondy, that was Nanny's little dog. Blondy and I stayed as far away from the snapping turtles as possible. Some of them were as big as I was. Our family rented a cabin at Bennett's lake during the summer's of the late 60's. I remember at least sixty Mexicans would visit us each summer. Our fishing hole would turn into the biggest swimming hole on the river. They would stop by on their way to Sand Mountain before picking cotton. They all rode on flat bed trucks and were very nice folks. I can't recall any of their names but I do remember one boy that came with them. As a six year old I was up to almost any challenge. Well, that little Mexican boy dared me to jump off of the top of a coke machine. Now being a country boy, I had to stand my ground. I climbed to the top and jumped right off. When I hit the ground my chin hit my knee and it split my tongue in half. Ouch! That little Mexican dude and his family followed us to the hospital in South Pittsburg to make sure that I was okay. Having my tongue stitched up sure made it hard to eat that Turtle soup! Setting around the camp fire I can remember the torched marsh mellows, the sound of the crickets, bull frogs and Nanny Gann telling me the story of Briar Rabbit. I would tell her the tales of the KatawbaWormz!

 FRASS

catalpa worm frass

Have you ever noticed all of the poop under a Catalpa Tree? You might want to wear a hat if you plan on walking under the shade of the Catalpa tree. Frassologists call that poop, FRASS! Have you ever had catalpa poop in the palm of your hand? If you handle the fat catalpas you can plan on having a little poop in your hand. Possibly a little vomit! After playing with the catalpa worms your hands will be a little more yellow looking!  Nanny Gann would make me stick my hands in a big can of soap and then she'd have me rub my hands in the dirt. I would wear her frass cleaning remedy on my hands for about one hour. Well, it seemed like it was an hour. It is a good idea to clean your hands after handling any kind of worm. Tawby Tip: If you are very gentle and let the fat catalpas crawl onto your hand instead of grabbing them then your chance of getting frass and vomit on your hand greatly decreases!  Have Fun!

Parastoidz attacked my Catalpa Tree!

My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach as I drew closer to the catalpa tree. My mind drifted back over 35 years to the times when I picked worms with Nanny Gann. What once was a strong, beautiful and productive tree, in only a few years had been viciously attacked by honey suckle vines and poison Ivy.  The weak tree made me sick to my stomach. There was no hesitation on our part! My son and I immediately attacked the vines with all of our energy. We worked all evening to free that old catalpa that holds so many wonderful memories. It was so cool because when we started cleaning that old tree up you could have heard a bumble bee 10 yards away, it was so quiet. It was a different story as we proudly cleaned the remaining clippings. The birds started chirping as we began cleaning that old tree up, the more we cleaned, the louder they became. By the time we finished they're must have been over 1000 birds chirping! I'm not sure why the birds were sounding off like that but it made a sweet harmony between man and nature that captured our  imagination for a small moment in time and provided another catalpa moment that I will always cherish.

 

Frass or Frass Gas? Hey GreenHornz, I remember getting stung by a hornet bee once. Bet you'll never guess what Nanny Gann used for medicine. Frass! Now your catching on GreenHornz! Nanny also used different frass remedies to grow tomatoes the size of watermelons and watermelons the size of doodle bugs. I often reflect on her and one thing that comes to mind is the way that she would say "Don't you give me that Frass!"





How to get catalpa worms out of a large tree!

         The Frass Flinger    

Tawby Tip: If you don't have a cherry picker use can improvise: Use the Frass Flinger! - Aim for the leaves to knock the worms out of the tree! Or you can take some of the fun out of it and wait until they crawl out...                Tawby farmers use several different red neck methods to retrieve fat catalpa worms from tall trees. You can use an extension handle with a paint roller on the end and shake the branches. Be sure and wear a hat! I'm convinced that birds and caterpillars aim their frass at targets. My mailbox is always covered with bird doo and I always get pegged with frass when picking catalpa worms. Tawby farmers even stand on top of their truck to reach the little fellers. Cain poles and bamboo will help get the job done. What ever method you use be careful and Have Fun!

Do caterpillars launch frass and vomit to protect themselves? Put a live catalpa worm on a fish hook and find out for yourself!                           

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the under side of the catalpa leaf, this is the home of the catalpa worm, but only for a short period of time. It is a very dangerous place to live if you are a prize catalpa because birds, wasp and other predators feed on the little fellers like it's a Friday night all you can eat catfish buffet.  The native ants set up camp for the summer and patrol the catalpa trees for the young fellers and any remains left from the birds and wasp afternoon snack.

Parastoidz attack

Wasp in Northern Mississippi dominate the hand to hand combat on the catalpa leaf by overpowering the catalpa in every aspect of battle. With jaws of thunder and the ability to grasp a worm and fly away, the catalpa worms have very little chance of survival. Wasp attack viciously and easily insert their eggs into the inside of the catalpa worms. The eggs quickly gobble up the insides of the catalpa worm and at the same time the catalpa continues to munch on the catalpa leaf. By the time the catalpa eats a couple more leaves the wasp are eating their way through the worm to reach the sunlight, they emerge to the outside of the catalpa worm and the catalpa worm continues to munch on that leaf.  It's easy to identify a catalpa worm that has 100 cocoons on it's back.  The amazing catalpa worm uses several naturally developed defense mechanisms to defend against the Parasitoids of the Eco-System. When it comes to hand to hand combat the catalpa worms twisting power is impressive to all fisherman, try putting a fat catalpa on a hook, you'll find out real quick how tough, strong and messy the catalpa worm can be.

  

One evening while checking my trees I noticed a 3" worm that had been ripped in half by two wasp. The two wasp were munching on the yellow portion of the insides of the worm. I watched the combat on the leaf for a few minutes and could not believe what I saw next. Another catalpa worm came down the limb to the arena, right beside the two wasp. It curled it's body in a circular motion and flipped one of the wasp at least 10'. It knocked the frass out of that wasp! It was like being at a football game, I was yelling "Go Tawby, Go Tawby, Go Tawby!" After scoring 3 points that catalpa turned around and crawled right back up the tree. The other wasp continued to munch on his half of the worm.  In a few hours that arena was a damp spot on the limb. A lot of different critters like the taste of the catalpa. Most of the time the little feller's are defenseless against the various Parastoidz of the Eco-System, especially birds. It is quiet a scene on the leaf when a bird snacks on the catalpa worm, the remains are left for ants, spiders and other predators. To avoid the vision of flying predators the catalpa will cling to the underside of the catalpa leaf for protection, kind of like hide and seek! 

catalpa worms vs Parastoidz  

 

 

 

 

Younger catalpas prefer to hang out together under the leaf (scatter a bunch of young catalpas onto separate leaves and come back the next day and see if they regrouped) chance of survival is probably better at that age if they stay together. As the little feller gets older, probably in those teenage caterpillar years, it proclaims independence by claiming it's own leaf, and many more to follow. The Eco-System has provided a way for the catalpa worm to evolve into a new creature that is no longer bound to the leaf. The Catalpas gobble the leaves as fast as they can, as if knowing they'll soon transform into a flying Sphinx Moth with the ability to camouflage into the environments, unnoticed by the Parastoidz of the Eco-System, no longer grounded to the tree, but free to spread those wings, celebrate the new change and reproduce life.

Tawby farmers have several obstacles to overcome, especially defending against the natural predators.  Spider webs make a great trap for the Sphinx and can end a cycle in a hurry. One thing for sure, they seem to be the preferred snack on the leaf and in the water.


The name “catalpa” is the native American name for the tree and it is spread all across North America. Common names are Northern and Southern catalpa, Indian cigar tree, Indian bean tree, Catawba tree, smoking bean tree, the fish bait tree and as Garret would say, Tawby tree! 

     

During the summer of 94 we visited a Trout farm up in the Smokey Mountains. I'll never forget the image of my son Garret as he carried a cricket bucket full of live catalpa worms around the pond. He offered all of the kind people some of his Tawby Worms! He was bare footed and wearing a diaper!   I wish you could have heard the way that boy pronounced Tawby Worms.  All of the fishermen caught trout using Garret's TAWBY worms on that day.

  The Frass Blaster 
The little fellers have many names: Catalpa worms, Catawba worms, Ceratomia Catalpae, Tawby Worms and KatawbaWormz

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