South Carolina Forestry Commission
News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 23, 2012

CATERPILLARS OFFER TOUCH OF HALLOWEEN IN SPRINGTIME

(Columbia, SC)  This time of year the South Carolina Forestry Commission gets calls from spooked homeowners wondering just what’s spinning the large web-like sacks on trees in their yards.Eastern tent caterpillar web.

To the uninitiated, this web mass evokes thoughts of spiders and sends many straight to the garden center at the hardware store to arm themselves with pesticides and heavy gloves.  But the fear is unwarranted.  The Eastern tent caterpillar is merely making itself a screened-in porch where it will munch on leaves to “carb-up” before pupating into its moth form.

Trouble is it prefers many homeowners’ most loved trees on their property.  The white, silken tents are popping up in the branch crotches of cherry, crab apple, and apple trees.

These caterpillars can sometimes be found on ash, birch, blackgum, willow, witchhazel, maple, oaks, poplar, peach and plum trees, although cherry trees are their preferred place to set up camp.

Daring explorers can poke inside to see this caterpillar with its long brown hairs, and white stripe on the back bordered by yellow-brown and black lines.  You’ll notice too the blue and black spots on the sides of the little caterpillars.

There is only one generation (egg- caterpillar- pupa- adult) per year.  Each summer, the adult female moth will lay 100 to 300 eggs in a dark brown varnish-like egg mass around a small twig, probably in June or July.  The caterpillars don’t hatch from the eggs until the following spring, typically in March/April when the cherry buds are breaking.

After hatching, the caterpillars collectively make the tent that we notice this time of year.  They’ll begin feeding on the newly emerging leaves inside their tent.Egg mass

After several weeks to a month, the fully-grown caterpillars will leave the nest for a final time to find a protected place to make their cocoons (pupate).  In early summer, the light brown adult moths emerge from the cocoons (May/July).  After mating, the female will lay eggs and the cycle will begin again. 

There is little to no damage to the trees since they’ll simply replace the leaves the caterpillars ate.  If the homeowner finds the webs offensive or annoying, the tent can be destroyed with a stick.  But that isn’t necessary; the webs will be gone long before Halloween.

 

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For more information, call Scott Hawkins at (803) 896-8820 or by email.

 

 

 

The SC Forestry Commission’s mission is to protect and develop South Carolina’s forest resource
 For every $1.00 invested by SC in the Commission, the industry produces more than $1,800.00 of economic impact.

 

 

 


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