Spring Caterpillar Addiction

Spring is here and so are the Eastern Tent Caterpillars.

For two day, now, my youngest has been fascinated with the yearly arrival of this fuzzy critter. She has even named a few. It reminds me of when she was a young child. How much she loved being outside and her enthusiasm for nature.

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My youngest holding an Eastern Tent Caterpillar. Photo credit: Olivia Welch

We have the caterpillars all over our yard and have spotted a few uptown. They are everywhere. Up until now, I have always confused this species with the pecan tree worms (webworms). But, today, my old friend, Google, explained my mistake and lead me to understand these little creatures of God, better.

“The caterpillars hatch about the time the buds begin to open, usually in early March. These insects are social; caterpillars from one egg mass stay together and spin a silken tent in a crotch of a tree. Caterpillars from two or more egg masses may unite to form one large colony. During the heat of the day or rainy weather, the caterpillars remain within the tent. They emerge to feed on leaves in the early morning, evening, or at night when it is not too cold,” according to the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment website.

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Egg Mass / Photo credit University of Kentucky

The larva stage is when we notice them most. I have never seen the egg mass in which they come from or paid much attention to the moth they become, although I have seen it. Eastern tent caterpillar nests are commonly found on wild cherry, apple, and crabapple, but may be found on hawthorn, maple, peach, pear and plum, as well. We have pear trees in our yard, but I haven’t found the first bug on either tree. We have one Moonglow variety and the other, we don’t know what variety it is. The moonglow “new” pears were all knocked off during our last bout of high winds, it would have bore fruit in July if there were any left. But, the September bearing pear tree has plenty of baby pears. They did get a little damage from our last frost, but I think they will turn out okay.

Back to the hungry little caterpillars. By the time they have eaten their way through which ever tree they are eating, they will be about 2-2 1/2” long. The Eastern tent caterpillar and the fall webworm will overlap only briefly during the early summer, as the fall webworm tents are seen from early summer until fall. Maybe this is why I always got them confused.

 

They stay in the lava or caterpillar stage for about six weeks, then spread out to begin cocoon building. I think they might be on their migration for a place to spin their cocoon now, because they really are all over the place. In about three or four weeks, the moths will emerge to find a mate. In which, they will lay anywhere from 150 to 400 eggs.

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Adult Female / Photo credit: University of Kentucky

According to the Clemson Extension, “control of the eastern tent caterpillar may not be necessary unless the trees are desirable specimens and the damage is becoming significant.” Joey Williamson, HGIC Extension Agent, offers pesticide options for South Carolina residents.

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Photo credit: Olivia Welch

I guess the caterpillar love will be short and bitter sweet for my child. The idea of playing with the moth it turns into isn’t that appealing. The photo to the left is the original of our featured photo. I love how Olivia gave it a pop of bright color. Wonder what the next critter will be to hold her attention so much. It certainly won’t be a spider of any kind, I’d bet. Look in your backyard to see what natural wonders strike your fancy. You just may like what you see.

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