By now you have likely seen the little caterpillar pests called Eastern Tent Caterpillars somewhere, it seems overnight these critters have taken over. While they will absolutely devour a tree, they have some rather fascinating characteristics about them. While you are wondering what to do with your new found infestation, let’s discuss some fun facts about them.
1. Yes, there are approximately 10 million everywhere now. This is because they are very social beings! The moth lays 150-250 eggs in one place, and all the siblings happily spend their days munching whatever they can find and building web nests. They remain as caterpillars for 6-8 weeks.
2. The web nests are what serve as a home base of sorts, tent caterpillars look for a tree that will be illuminated by the morning sun and get to work spinning their webs. The nests allow a place for them to rest and provides protections from predators.
3. These critters use pheromones to signal to their siblings where they are going to find food. These trail differ from other insects in a particularly interesting way- there are different pheromones. A caterpillar that is scouting will leave an exploratory pheromone trail to show they are looking for leaves. When a caterpillar finds a scrumptious meal the pheromone changes to let the others know to come join it using its recruitment pheromone.
4. The large clusters of these insects are how they keep warm. Early spring promises some cool mornings, and often they will group together in the sunshine in an effort to combat the low temperatures around them.
5. Horse owners beware! While normally harmless creatures, if a pregnant mare ingests one the setae hairs covering the bugs can wreak havoc on her digestive track and bring bacteria into the reproductive organs. In some cases this has triggered spontaneous late term abortions of foals.
6. Infestations are cyclical, every 9-16 years there will be a massive amount of hatchlings that will wreak havoc on their environment. While that proves problematic for the year it happens, it means that in the future the amount of caterpillars will decline for a while giving vegetation time to recover.