One of the distinguishing characteristics of tent caterpillars is the presence of a large web or silk in their host. They have hairs all over the body. The appearance will vary depending on the stage of development and the species. During the egg stage, they are in masses with as much as 350 eggs in a group. They create a shiny wrap around the twig or branch at which they are present. In their larval stage, on the other hand, they have a black body with white stripes or dots. They have short hairs and the length is usually at 2.5 inches in average. Lastly, when they turn into adults, they are brown or gray with wings that reach a maximum span of 1.5 inches.
Tent Caterpillar’s Habitat
The lifecycle of tent caterpillar starts in mid-summer, where the females deposit their eggs. As the spring starts, they overwinter. At this point, they appear on the twigs or branches of their host plant. When a caterpillar emerges, it moves to a different part or branch of the tree. As it transfers, it creates a web, which gradually becomes its protective tent. In the daytime, you will see the caterpillar feeding on the leaves. At night, on the other hand, it returns to its nest. This parent will continue until pupation. After this, it will find a plant debris or trunk and form its cocoon. In about 14 days, it will fully transform into an adult.
Identifying Tent Caterpillar’s Damage
Among others, hardwood deciduous plants are some of the most common hosts for tent caterpillars, which include oak, willow, cottonwood, sugar maple, plum, wild cherry, ash, peach, and apple.
Are tent caterpillars affecting your plants? Unsure if they are already present in your home? The following are some of the signs that you should watch out for:
- The appearance of silk tents in a plant is one of the most common indications of their presence. Tent caterpillars, when they move from one part of the plant to another, create webs. This silk is harmless, but they can be unattractive, which makes it a significant concern if they are present in ornamental plants.
- During the young stages, on the other hand, you will find clusters of the eggs of tent caterpillars. They are frothy and will circle around the twigs of the plant. At one point, they will turn hard similar to a Styrofoam.
- You should also take a look at the leaves of the plants. It will appear chewed in several places, which is because the caterpillars feed on them. In extreme cases, the leaves will fall, leaving only the vein or the skeleton of the host plant.
Results of Infestation
One of the things that you should know about tent caterpillars is the fact that they can cause heavy destruction to their host plant within just a short span of time. In instances wherein the infestation is already too large before you take notice of it, the tree will most likely end up suffering from defoliation. With the loss of leaves, the plant is unable to receive the nutrients that it requires for its survival. Most of the parts will turn brown and dry. Eventually, this leads to the death of the host plant.
How to Get Rid of Tent Caterpillars
Natural and Organic Solutions
To get rid of tent caterpillars in a manner that is safe and natural, the following are some of the things that you can do:
- Mechanical or manual control is one of the first solutions you might want to consider. Pay attention to the physical characteristics of tent caterpillars so that you can easily determine if they are present in a plant. Remove them by hand and throw in a bucket of soapy water solution. Do not throw them just anywhere as they will find their way back to the plant. Also, it is best to pick them while they are still eggs, which means that they are not yet destructive.
- Another solution that is equally effective is biological control. Forget the use of chemicals with toxic ingredients, which can be harmful to the environment. Instead, you should look for a biological pesticide. Look for one that has Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a stomach poison. The good thing about the latter is that it attacks the pests and not the beneficial insects in the garden.
- You will also benefit from encouraging the presence of natural predators in the garden. In today’s time, this is not a difficult thing to do because there are many commercial sellers where you can find these predators, especially parasitic wasps. When its eggs hatch, it will feed on the tent caterpillar and will lead to its death. This is one of the best ways to lessen the population of caterpillars as it attacks only them and not other insects.
- The use of a tree band will also help, although this is more of a preventive than a control measure. There are bands with a sticky surface, which you can wrap around the host tree. Because of the sticky surface, it will catch the larvae before it can transfer to the top part of the plant and spread damage.
At the end of the day, if none of the solutions above deliver the effectiveness that you are looking for, chemical control will present the excellent alternative. However, this is one thing you need to do with caution. Professional application is best to guarantee the right outcomes. They contain toxic ingredients, which makes it more important to be cautious. Ingestion and contact pesticides are some of the most common. Nonetheless, take note of the fact that they kill not only the tent caterpillars, but even beneficial insects.
How to Prevent Tent Caterpillars
Just like in the case of other pests that thrive in the garden, one of the simplest preventive measures is regular cleaning and maintenance. You should remove any decaying vegetation in the garden because it will be an attractive breeding ground for the tent caterpillars. Make sure that there are no dried leaves or twigs that are lying around. Another thing that could help is choosing the right plants to have. In this case, consider those that are resistant to the growth of tent caterpillars and other pests.