Tent Caterpillars and Ways to Remove Them

June 9, 2008 | by Ethan (email) |

I’ve noticed a few trees in the community with the signs of Tent Caterpillars. They are easily spotted this time of year by the tent like nests they are named after.

About Tent Caterpillars

Tent Caterpillars prefer Black Cherry trees but will infest others. The mature female moths lay eggs on pencil sized branches. When spring arrives these eggs hatch and the caterpillars begin to setup their tent in tree joints. As the cool morning passes, the caterpillars move out from the tent to feed on young leaves. They return to their tent before the temperature drops to keep warm. Their feeding habits won’t typically kill a tree unless it is already stressed.

After about 7 weeks the caterpillars will leave the tree to find other protected place such as underneath eaves. There they spin a cocoon and emerge as moths to mate and lay eggs.

Eastern Tent Caterpillars will use the tent as a home base. Forest Tent Caterpillars are nomadic and will create several small temporary tents.

Removing Tent Caterpillars

Although Tent Caterpillars won’t typically kill a tree they will cause serious damage. Larva consume new growth and even leave trails for other caterpillars to find food sources. Removing the egg masses during winter is the best way to prevent Tent Caterpillars. Growing up we always burned their tent (sounds cruel when I write it out). It’s best done at night when the caterpillars have returned from feeding. This should be done carefully to avoid damaging the tree.

Once I got a closer look, I realized how widespread the caterpillars were. I worked on a tree for some time slowly burning away the tent. I think this is best done with something like a butane torch. The tents fall away quickly and you can keep the torch moving to prevent damaging the tree. Again, be very careful. Dry wood can catch on fire very easily.

Since the caterpillars are setup in many trees, a better option would be to spray. I checked and Sevin bug killer works on Tent Caterpillars too. I’ve used Sevin bug killer before and had good experiences. The only downside is the milky residue which makes your tree really look diseased.

You can see how the “tents” blend in so well making them tough to spot.

This picture shows how things looked after I removed the tent. See how big the “tent” was!

What do you think? How do you resolve Tent Caterpillars?

10 Responses
  1. i would in no way recommend this method, but i recall years ago at my grandparents’ farm in missouri, you got rid of those tents with a BFT (big freaking torch) 😀

  2. Ethan says:

    @Johnny- HAHA! I remember as a kid using a torch too. We had a good bit of property so none of the neighbors ever realized what we were up to. Now I have to find more discrete ways.

  3. Robin says:

    We got rid of a ton of those tents on our new property! I also did a post about where they were taking over some trees north of us. They were killing some of the smaller trees and bushes because they were on almost every branch.

    Everyone in our area cuts the entire branch off and burns it. We usually do that in the evening so that they are in the tents. Of course most of them were in places where open flame could have caught everything else on fire too.

    Oh, and I’ve seen them on a lot of different types of trees and bushes. We don’t have any black cherry trees around here but they seemed to like our crab apple tree and our brush with white blossoms. I’m not sure what kind of fruit those bushes will make we’ve only owned the house for a month.

    P.S. Could you let Frank know that I have my house blog up and running finally. : ) I always used to link my name to my art blog but I think our house one is much more appropriate.

  4. Ethan says:

    @Robin, Sounds like a lot of tent caterpillars. I’ve also heard of cutting off the branch before burning (which makes a lot of sense). Do you find yourself with odd looking trees? I think you mean Fred (not Frank) and I’ll let him know. Thanks.

  5. Todd says:

    We always used to touch them as well. The last few years I haven’t seen any of them around here. I remember as a kid my dad burning them out of trees all the time. Then again he was a fireman so it wasn’t a big deal. Hopefully we won’t see those buggers around here again anytime soon.

  6. Jon says:

    We use a butane torch, down here. If the tents are low enough, we ascend a ladder and do the deed by hand. But if they are beyond easy reach, we strap the torch to a pole (usually some PVC these days) strike up the flame and do some long range bug burning.

    I don’t know if the bugs on Black Cherry Trees or Crab Apple Trees are the same as the ones we have down here, South Of The Mason Dixon, but we have (what appears to be) the exact same critter in our Pecan Trees. Ours don’t appear to stray far from the tent, though. When you roll up on one, it is usually filled with a writhing mass of bugs. And they make a wonderful hiss when torched.


  7. Ethan says:

    @Todd, Always good to have a fireman close at hand when working with fire. You should feel good that you haven’t seen any around. They spread easy so it’s tough to get rid of them permanently.

    @Jon, Never tried the long range torch. Sounds a little too dangerous for me. I’d rather just climb up there and have a go at em. Your description sounds just like the tents we have here in MD.

  8. Robin says:

    Ugh! That’s what happens when you write posts late at night. Sorry about that!

    No, our trees don’t look funny because the branches they seem to like are usually thin low branches. The branches we cut from the bushes would probably look funny if were in a manicured lawn but they are in the brush around our property. See we have 3 acres of every wild plant and tree you can imagine so it’s not like anyone sees what we’re cutting unless they are walking the trails on our property.

  9. cody says:

    to me tent catipillars cause no hardy have have thausands in my cage makeing cacoons……… AND THEY DON’T KILL TREES!!!!!!

  10. HANDYMAN51 says:

    Torch in one hand, fire extinguisher in the other? Haven’t seen many of these since I was a kid, when I found them rather fascinating, but what kid is worried about trees?

Leave a Reply