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.