calling all caterpillars

Eastern tent caterpillar tentI 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.


  1. Kassie says:

    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!

  2. margaret says:

    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!


  3. margaret says:

    ;-) 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.

  4. Kassie says:

    THink I’ll call my birds over to the trees with a feeder and cross my fingers! Thanks for all the great information!

  5. Carolynn Sears says:

    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!

  6. Carole says:

    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.

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