Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth

Malacosoma americana

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moths are rarely seen, but their larvae are seen in huge numbers every Spring.

Adult moths are reddish-brown with white bands on the forewings (front wings). They have a wingspan of about one and a half inches.

The caterpillars grow up to two inches long. They are black with a white stripe down the back. On either side of the stripe are blue spots and reddish or yellowish stripes.

Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service

Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service

Tim Tigner, Virginia Department of Forestry

Female moths lay egg masses of 100 to 300 eggs around a twig in mid-summer. The egg mass is very dark.

The eggs overwinter and hatch the following Spring. When the larvae (caterpillars) hatch, they are small. They immediately climb up the tree to a crotch of branches and build a silk tent.

Eastern Tent Caterpillars use the tent for protection. They leave the tent during the day to feed and return to it at night. As the caterpillars eat and grow larger, the tent grows larger also. It can get to be about two feet long.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moths especially prefer Black Cherry as a host plant (food plant for caterpillars). Other common host plants include trees and shrubs in the Roseaceae family, such as hawthorns. If the caterpillars defoliate (eat all the leaves) their host plant, they will move on to another nearby tree, sometimes an oak or beech.

Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service

Gerard J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University

Eastern Tent Caterpillars feed for six to eight weeks. When they are fully grown, they will climb down from the tree and look for a place to pupate (resting stage). This is when most people see them. Eastern Tent Caterpillars will cross sidewalks, roads, and lawns.

Once the caterpillar finds a suitable place, it builds a yellowish silk coccoon to rest in for the pupa stage. In about three weeks, the adult moth leaves the coccoon and seeks a mate.

Larry L. Hyche, Auburn University

Larry L. Hyche, Auburn University

Larry L. Hyche, Auburn University

Eastern Tent Caterpillars have many predators. Once they leave the tent to find a place to pupate, they are picked up by birds, turtles, and other insect-eaters. Sometimes they fall into streams or ponds when a tree hangs over the water, and they are quickly eaten by fish.

Relationships in Nature:

FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Black Cherry

Raccoon

Black Cherry

Eastern Yellow Jacket SP

Black Oak

Eastern Box Turtle

Black Oak

American Goldfinch SP

White Oak

Mallard

White Oak

Carolina Chickadee SP

American Beech

Red-winged Blackbird

American Beech

Black Cherry H

Green Hawthorn

Least Shrew

Cinnamon Fern

Green Hawthorn H

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Virginia Creeper

Red Fox

Poison Ivy

Eastern Garter Snake

Bracken Fern

Wood Frog

Copperhead

Fiery Searcher

Five-lined Skink

American Toad

Northern Cardinal

Wild Turkey

Big Brown Bat

American Robin

Commn Black Ground Beetle

Blue Jay

Bald-faced Hornet

Relationship to Humans:

Eastern Tent Caterpillars are considered a great pest by many people. Actually, they are usually not very destructive. They are only fatal to young trees, where they eat all of the leaves quickly. Older trees will still have most of their leaves after the tent is gone, and the caterpillars have moved on. People can save their young cherry trees by removing tents when they see them, or by pruning the portion of the tree with the tent in it.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Arthropod
CLASS
Insect
ORDER
Lepidoptera
FAMILY
Lasiocampidae
GENUS
Malacosoma
SPECIES
Malacosoma americana

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