Tent worms are classified in the phylum Arthropoda class Insecta, order Lepidoptera, superfamily Bombycoidea, and family Lasiocampidae. Also called “tent caterpillar,” the tent worm earned its name for the large silk tents or webs that they spin during the spring in the cracks and cervices of trees. Their favorite places to spin are apple trees and cherry trees.
Tent worms have a hairy body and they are bright-colored, with brilliant blue and dazzling yellow spots. In some cases, tent worms may become serious orchard pests, occurring in large numbers. When the tent worm occurs in large numbers they have the ability to defoliate entire trees and damage a significant amount of fruit. Many tent worms will live inside the tent, which is used for protection from the elements, such as rain and as protection during the evening hours. During daytime hours, the tent worms leave their silky homes and feed on the leaves in nearby branches.
The tent worm pupates within its home or cocoon. The adult emerges mid-summer as a reddish brown or gray, medium-sized moth. Its body is stout and hairy and it has feathery antennae. After the adult mates, it deposits several hundred eggs in bands around the twigs of the host tree. A thick, foamy brown crust and they cover the eggs over winter until the early spring. Once spring arrives and the eggs hatch, the larvae from several egg masses come together near a fork in a limb and form the tent by crawling about, and expelling silk.
While all tent worms create amazing cocoons, the most popular tent maker is the Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum). The Eastern tent caterpillar is an orchard pest, and it has been linked to mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS). MRLS causes healthy mares to experience high rates of aborted fetuses or stillborn foals. It is estimated that the rates are as high as 70%. In 2001 alone, one single outbreak of MRLS resulted in the loss of more than 5,000 foals in Kentucky.
Tent Worm Control
There are several effective methods of controlling tent worms. The most effective way to control tent worms is to remove the egg masses from trees during the winter or remove the tents in the early spring, then soak them in kerosene or burn them. Removing host trees can also eliminate caterpillar worm populations.
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