Eastern tent caterpillars spend the winter as ring-like masses of
eggs that were laid last June on twigs of wild cherry,
crabapples, and related trees. It is possible to check trees for
masses now to get some idea on the potential caterpillar
population this spring. If large numbers are easily found, then
it is obvious that managers must be ready to deal with the
caterpillars after egg hatch. If few or no masses are found, it
will still be important to watch those trees for tents in late
March and early April
“Spent” egg masses from which caterpillars emerged last year
may be present so it is important to be able to distinguish
between new and old ones. This is not hard and the pictures
below will show you how. A hand magnifying lens and a
sharp-tipped needle will be useful in checking masses that you
find. Most all new (and some old egg masses) should be within
15 to 18 inches of the tip of twigs that are about one-quarter
inch in diameter. There does not seem to be a height
preference so masses can be anywhere up and down the height
of the tree.
Individual tent caterpillar eggs in “live” masses (those laid
during the summer of 2002) are white but the entire mass is
covered partly to entirely with a shiny, varnish-like material
called spumaline (Fig. 1).
(Fig. 1) New egg mass
with spumaline covering.
New egg masses will be made up of
eggs with intact white tops (Fig. 2). You may want to scratch
some of the spumaline away so that you can see the ends of the
eggs to confirm whether they are new or old.
(Fig. 2) Spumaline removed to show white tops of eggs.
Many of the masses that hatched in 2002 have weathered and
fallen from the trees but some will still be present. Old masses
will not have much, if any, of the hard covering and the
individual eggs in the mass will have a definite hole in the top.
You may find old masses in which a few eggs did not hatch for
some reason. They will not hatch this year.
(Fig. 3) Old egg mass.
How to Use the Information.
Tree checks now would allow you to get some idea if many
masses are present or that they are relatively scarce. If lots of
new masses are present, then these are high priority areas that
should be checked for tents as egg hatch progresses in the
spring. There is nothing that can be done at this point to kill
egg masses and caterpillars, short of physically removing them
individually. Control measures, such as tent destruction or
removal, sprays, injections, etc., need to be done after egg
hatch in March.
Finding egg masses when numbers are low, just a few per tree,
is like a search for a needle in a haystack. Lots of time can be
spent with no obvious return and small numbers of tents may
be present. General indications from the tree checks made by
UK entomology personnel point to a reduced population for
2003 but numbers can vary greatly from one location to
CAUTION! Pesticide recommendations in this publication
are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products
may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county
regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.
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This page is maintained by Pat Dillon, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.
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