The eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum, is a pest native to North America.
Populations fluctuate from year to year, with outbreaks occurring every several years. Defoliation of trees, building of unsightly silken nests in trees, and wandering caterpillars crawling over plants, walkways, and roads cause this insect to be a pest in the late spring and early summer. Eastern tent caterpillar nests are commonly found on wild cherry, apple, and crabapple, but may be found on hawthorn, maple, cherry, peach, pear and plum as well.
While tent caterpillars can nearly defoliate a tree when numerous, the tree will usually recover and put out a new crop of leaves. In the landscape, however, nests can become an eyesore, particularly when exposed by excessive defoliation. The silken nests are built in the crotches of limbs and can become quite large.
Larvae cause considerable concern when they begin to wander to protected places to pupate. They are frequently seen crawling on other types of plants, walkways, and storage buildings. They are a nuisance and can create a mess when they are squashed on driveways, sidewalks, and patios. But keep in mind that no additional feeding or damage is done by the wandering caterpillars. Insecticides are generally ineffective against mature larvae.
Eastern tent caterpillar nests are frequently confused with fall webworm nests. Unlike the tent caterpillar, fall webworm nests are located at the ends of the branches and their loosely woven webs enclose foliage while the tents of the eastern tent caterpillar do not. While there may be some overlap, fall webworm generally occurs later in the season. For more information click here.