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Invasion Of The Eastern Tent Caterpillars
Updated May 13, 2015 7:56 AM
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Eastern tent caterpillar
easter tent.jpg
gypsy moth.jpg
Gypsy moth caterpillar, notice the difference
eastern moth.jpg
Eastern Tent Caterpillar change into this moth
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Eggs of Eastern Tent Caterpillar

(UNDATED) - If you have spent anytime outside, you have seen them -- 2-inch-long, black and covered with fine-brown hairs - the Eastern Tent Caterpillar.

According to Daniel Twardus, of the USDA Forest Service, the gregarious caterpillars hatch in the early spring about the time tree buds start to open, and soon they begin to spin their silken tents in the branch forks. The tent protects them from predators, such as birds, and from temperature extremes. Enlarging the tent as they grown, the caterpillars leave only to feed, usually at night.

The eastern tent caterpillar is found most often on apple and wild or ornamental cherry, and sometimes on pecan, Hawthorne, beech and willow trees. When abundant, the caterpillars will eat all the leaves, weakening, though seldom killing a tree. Although the caterpillars won't kill a healthy adult tree, they can wipe out the growth on smaller bushes, trees and plants.

Leaf-feeding can be prevented on small trees by destroying tents with a stick or pole, exposing the caterpillars to birds. Another preventive method is to prune the egg masses from twigs before the early spring hatch.

The Eastern tent caterpillar is often mistaken for the gypsy moth. Though they are similar in appearance, they differ in habits.

The fully-grown Eastern tent caterpillar is about 2-inches-long, black with a white stripe along the middle of the back and a row of pale blue oval spots on each side. It is sparsely covered with fine light brown hairs.

The gypsy moth caterpillar, when fully grown, is also about 2-inches-long, but it has pairs of blue and red spots on its back.

Unlike the gypsy moth, the Eastern tent caterpillar can be readily identified by the tent it constructs in the forks of tree branches. Tent caterpillars spend the winter in egg masses that are in shiny brown bands around twigs.

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