As days get warmer and flowers begin to bloom, the eastern tent caterpillar starts building tent-like structures in trees. Feeding damage and the nests are often unsightly but the trees usually recover with no problem. They will leaf back out again pretty quick.
The eastern tent caterpillar is one of the first insects to become active in the spring and early summer. This caterpillar larva is black with brown hairs and a white stripe down its back. They will reach up to 2.5 inches long. The adult moth is reddish brown with two white stripes on the fore wings. Adult moths emerge in May and June and will lay egg masses that circle the limbs of their host tree. The eggs will overwinter on that tree and emerge the following spring to begin the cycle again.
The larva are eating machines that feed on cherry, apple, peach, plum, and crabapple leaves, but has been found on various hardwoods such as ash, blackgum, birch, sweetgum, oak, poplar and maple. They hatch together and will develop a nest mass in the forks of a couple limbs. As they eat and grow, so will the tent/nest. The larva will move outward from the nest to feed and return at night or during rain. It takes about three weeks for the larva to mature from hatching into adults.
These pests are mostly just a nuisance and control is seldom necessary but if nests develop in young trees, you can removed the tents and developing larva by hand. You can also prune out the egg masses, they are a dark brown color circling the limb, in late June to prevent a spring hatching.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact your local county agent, Brenda Jackson, at Murray County Extension at 706-695-3031 or at email: firstname.lastname@example.org.