Tent caterpillars: What’s their story, what do the moths look like?

  • Wed May 21st, 2014 2:15pm
  • Life

By Jessi Loerch

If you’ve walked outside anytime in the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen tent caterpillars.

They’re the ones making web-like nests in trees and bushes. By now, the caterpillars are pretty big, and they gather on the tents, all waving around together in a somewhat creepy manner.

I’ve been curious about them, so I did some poking around to see what I could learn. I was also on the hunt for a photo of the adult moth, which I eventually found.

The tent caterpillar has a single life cycle each year. The caterpillars hatch and form nests in the spring. The tent-like nests are protection for the little caterpillars. The caterpillars will molt a few times, chomping away on leaves in between. Eventually they leave the nest behind and spin cocoons. After 12 to 18 days, the adult moths emerge. The moths mate and the females lay eggs. The moths die within a few days. The eggs hang out until spring, when the cycle begins again.

The tent caterpillars tend to go in cycles. They’ll be prevalent for a few years before dying back down. They have a number of natural predators including birds, wasps and beetles. While the tents are ugly, healthy trees rebound from the damage.

Most importantly, though, I wondered: What do these moths look like? Answer: They’re small and unremarkable. Brown with fuzzy antennas. Not shockingly, you’re way less likely to see them as they’re only around for a few days, rather than weeks or months.

More about tent caterpillars

Some impressive, close-up photos of the caterpillars