Kentucky’s eastern tent caterpillar population has been growing steadily over the past few years. However, the trend appears to have accelerated; tents and defoliated cherry trees were very noticeable this spring (Figure 1).
Many of the hairy caterpillars have left their nests (Figure 2) in search of pupation sites. Adults will emerge in early June and females will lay egg masses for the 2017 contingent, which may be even larger. With somewhere between 140 and 300 eggs per mass, a relatively small increase in the number of females can generate a big jump in numbers for the following season.
The normal cycle of these insects is a long, slow buildup, followed by 2 to 3 peak years before the population crashes from a combination of natural enemies and diseases. It would be wise to anticipate at least one more season before a crash. It is a good time to identify “hot spots” and a plan to deal with them. Tree removal may be a practical option along pasture fence lines.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist