Native caterpillars not a major concern for trees

Mike Hillstrom, forest health specialist, Fitchburg, Michael.Hillstrom@wisconsin.gov, 608-513-7690

Eastern tent caterpillars (ETC) are hatching and beginning to feed on host trees, including cherry, apple and crabapple. Landowners and homeowners may notice the white silken tents forming in branch forks. Although they form unsightly tents, ETC is a native insect so management is not typically necessary. Even completely defoliated trees will put out new leaves within a few weeks.

A group of eastern tent caterpillars warm themselves on white silk tent before leaving to feed on black cherry leaves.

If landowners want to remove the tents the best time to do so is early morning or evening when the caterpillars are inside. Unless it is raining, eastern tent caterpillars leave their tents each morning to feed throughout the day before returning at night. Caterpillars can be removed either by hand if they are within reach or with a rake if they are high in the tree. They can then be killed by soaking them in soapy water or sealing them in a trash bag. Insecticides are rarely necessary but should penetrate inside the tent if used. Do not prune branches, burn tents or soak them with WD-40. These methods are more harmful to the tree than ETC defoliation and are not recommended.

For more information on eastern tent caterpillar, read this factsheet from UW-Madison Division of Extension.

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