Coming soon to a cherry tree near you… tent worms!
Their real name is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) but I’ve called them “tent worms” ever since a memorable spring in the late 1960’s when they overran the neighborhood. They were everywhere. We couldn’t walk without stepping on them. Ewwwww!
Eastern tent caterpillars are actually moths that eat plants in the Rosaceae family including apples, chokecherries and black cherries. Most people don’t notice them until they build silken tents in the trees.
Tent worms are among the most social of all caterpillars. Their mother lays a cluster of 200-300 eggs on a cherry tree (for instance) in spring or early summer. The caterpillars develop inside the eggs but they don’t hatch until the following spring. Just before the tree leafs out, the tiny caterpillars emerge from the eggs and work together to spin a tent to keep them moist and safe.
Every day the caterpillars come out of their tent to eat the leaves. As they walk, they lay scent trails to follow back to their tent at the end of the day. As the caterpillars grow they make their tents larger to bury their waste and provide a place to hide between eating excursions.
When they’re ready to become moths, the party breaks up and each caterpillar goes off on its own to weave a cocoon.
This is what they look like as moths. Rather unremarkable. They have a 2.2 to 4.4-inch wingspan.
(tent photo by Marcy Cunkelman, moth photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)