Tent caterpillars are moth larvae that spin webs in the crotches of trees and shrubs. These unsightly webs or "tents" can shelter hundreds of caterpillars, protecting them from the rain. Caterpillars leave their tents on sunny days to feed on tree or shrub foliage. In high populations, these pests can defoliate trees, making them weak and unhealthy.
Detecting Tent Caterpillars
Tent caterpillars begin spinning webs in early spring when their favorite trees begin to grow leaves. Some trees commonly infested with tent caterpillars include cherry, apple, poplar, maple, oak, birch and crabapple trees. Look for tents stretching across forks of limbs.
After a couple of months of making tents, the caterpillars crawl down the tree and form pale yellow cocoons. These cocoons are visible on any tree surface.
Damaging Effects Of Tent Caterpillars
While tent caterpillars don't usually kill trees they infest, they can cause problems. They can stunt tree growth by defoliating trees, interrupting their ability to photosynthesize. Early detection of these pests is the key to keeping trees healthy and vigorous.
Controlling Tent Caterpillars
One of the best ways to get rid of tent caterpillars is to cut them out of the trees. You can begin pruning out egg masses you find on trees in fall and winter if they are within reach. If the egg masses are too high for you to safely reach, you can call a tree cutting service to prune out the pests. After removing tents, burn them to destroy the eggs inside.
If you miss some egg masses and tents do form, you can prune them out and burn them as well. You can also crush the caterpillars to kill them, but do wear gloves if doing so. Some people experience skin irritation from squishing them with bare hands.
Tent caterpillar populations are very high in some years and not in others. During years where you notice large populations of tent caterpillars, you may need to spray the tree using an insecticide or biological control agent. If you are uncomfortable doing so, contact a local trees service. The professional, such as one from Bieniek Tree Service, can safely spray the trees to get rid of your problem.
If you suspect you have tree caterpillars, and you've never dealt with these pests before, call a local tree service. An arborist understands the lifecycle of tent caterpillars and the different chemical and cultural approaches are best to remove them from your trees. They can also help identify and prune tents and eggs masses out of high branches so they can be destroyed.