Are Tent Caterpillars Harmful to Trees?

Are tent caterpillars harmful to trees? Unsurprisingly, the answer is a most definite, “Yes.” Those greedy young caterpillars, left unchecked, will result in complete defoliation. 

In this post, Georgia Pro Services, Griffin’s expert tree service, explains more about tent caterpillars, the harm they cause, and what you can do about them.

are tent caterpillars harmful to trees

What Does the Enemy Look Like? 

In this post, we’re looking at the Malacosoma disstria, which is common throughout much of North America. They feast on hardwood trees rather than conifers, red maples, and fruit trees, although they will adjust their diet if necessary. 

The full-grown caterpillar is a couple of inches long, with black and blue coloring. It will usually also have a distinct row of white markings on its back and a lot of hair. Some say that the white marks look like footprints. 

The caterpillar stays in its cocoon for about two weeks in mid-July, emerging as a non-descript tan moth that only comes out at night. 

The moths lay eggs and attach them all the way around the tree branches. The moths live for only five days but produce between 100 and 350 grey, cylindrical eggs, which survive the winter and hatch in spring. These hatch into larvae during May and then feed on leaves for the next five or six weeks. The larvae spin silk for their comfort, but you’re unlikely to notice that. When they finish feeding, they encase themselves in the cocoons, and the cycle begins again. 

Healthy Trees Can Survive the Onslaught

So, are tent caterpillars harmful to trees? The good news is that a healthy tree can handle this type of defoliation for two to three seasons in a row. However, you must deal with the issue as quickly as possible because the infestation takes a significant toll. 

How to Beat an Infestation

Bringing in the caterpillar’s natural enemies, particularly the Sarcophaga aldrichi, is an excellent control measure. However, you are replacing the caterpillars with flies, which may trouble some people. Wasps and birds are other natural predators. 

A damper or colder-than-usual spring will naturally reduce the numbers. A lack of food will also kill them off, as will disease. However, if you don’t want to rely on these methods, you can:

  • Call our team for assistance as soon as you see the larvae
  • Dispose of the caterpillars and eggs when you notice
  • Actively seek out the cocoons on trees, decks, and other external surfaces
  • Remove infested branches and burn them 
  • Spray the affected area with a suitable pesticide when the larvae are less than an inch long

There is a caveat when using a pesticide  look for those that will be safe for beneficial insects and other wildlife. Examples include Bacillus thuringiensis, spinosad, azadiractin, and insecticidal soap. There are also many chemical products that you can use that have a minimal impact on other wildlife. 

Why Call in the Professionals? 

If you’re unsure of the effects of the pesticide, please call us. We’ll evaluate the extent of the damage and come up with the most eco-friendly solution for your garden. Not only that, but we also check on your tree’s health. We then come up with a supportive strategy so that it will recover from its ordeal as quickly as possible. 

Contact Our Team for Help

Are tent caterpillars harmful to trees? While there’s no reason to panic immediately, they are a persistent pest that can result in the death of an unhealthy tree

Call our team for a definitive solution that effectively deals with the issue without causing an ecological emergency. Contact Georgia Pro Services at (404) 751-8743 for service in Griffin, GA, and the surrounding areas today!

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