I WAS OUT ON PATROL AGAIN this morning, tent-caterpillar patrol. Armed with a piece of bamboo I’d cut down to about 10 inches long and my camera (the latter being optional), I searched out and destroyed several nests of the Eastern tent caterpillar. Pretty brave of me, huh?
Each Eastern tent caterpillar overwintered as part of a mass of several hundred eggs, and hatched in early spring to get ready to start eating. Fruit-tree foliage, including that of crabapples, is on their preferred diet, so I make a habit of destroying all the masses I can get to in my 10 crabapple trees, and elsewhere around the yard. I’m not going to single-handedly knock back the entire population, of course, but this simple, non-toxic tactic does reduce the damage to my trees so I can enjoy them in my landscape with leaves, instead of without.
I simply use the piece of bamboo cane to remove the nest, inserting the tip into the structure and twisting gently till all the sticky, web-like bits (and the caterpillars) are on the stick. I deposit the contents on the ground near my shoe, and step on it for good measure. Another non-toxic method for dealing with young caterpillars is to spray with BT-k, Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki, which is often sold under the brand name Dipel.
Want to know more about these creatures, who grow to about 2 inches or longer each in a month or so, and can then be seen walking around the yard, crawling along pavement or up the siding (once they’re finished eating their fill). The University of Kentucky has a good fact sheet.
What do we do about the tent catapillars? My sister has them in her trees and doesn’t know what to do. I once saw a chickadee tear open a tent to get to the wigglies, but absent a birdie, is there anything we should do? Thanks!
Margaret, you are indeed a fearless warrior when it comes to these tent caterpillars. Good job! ;-)
We both know you two are much braver than I am. Courage is a good quality in a gardener, against small opponents (like caterpillars) or large (like fierce storms). Onward!
;-) to you, mplonski. Indeed I am. Big and tough.
Kassie, I think the link at the end of the post, to the U of Kentucky fact sheet about caterpillars, will answer any other questions you have. Basically it’s the same–mechanical removal asap, or spraying with Bt asap.
Kinda a garden bully, aren’t you? First you are going after Moles, now caterpillars.
THink I’ll call my birds over to the trees with a feeder and cross my fingers! Thanks for all the great information!
In the fifties, as a girl, I would scout for egg masses on the bare, winter branches of deciduous trees. The dark-colored egg mass is about an inch long and wrapped around branches that are about the thickness of a pencil. My parents would destroy the egg masses, but one time a shirt box full was forgotten and we had tiny tent caterpillars roaming the kitchen. It was an education!
Know this is an old post, but you’ll probably be have caterpillars again next year.
I was just reading that they are a favorite of black and yellow-billed cuckoos and bats.