Currently viewing the category: "Tent Caterpillars and Kin"
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A moth or butterfly?
June 8, 2010
Dear fellow bug people:
I’ve been trying to grow a butterfly garden so that I may start one in our school next year. I teach first grade and the students love them. I walked into my back yard and found about 9 groups of these little guys on a tree I did not plant (go figure!). Anyway I believe they are moth caterpillars. It would be nice to know more. I would love to know what they are and if I can bring some into the classroom without my lil people getting hurt. I could not get a closer picture without ‘bugging’ them 🙂 Hope you can help me!
Saymith Morales – First Grade Teacher
Enterprise, Alabama

Tent Caterpillars

Dear Saymith,
Though your photo is quite blurry and lacking in detail, we have little doubt that this is these are Eastern Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma americanum.  They are moth caterpillars, and they could easily be brought into the classroom for your first grade students to learn about metamorphosis, but we think other species might be more appropriate.  BugGuide provides information on the species, but directs viewers to another website for details about the life cycle.  Adult moths are a drab brown, and they are not the most dramatic conclusion to metamorphosis, but they will still provide a valuable learning experience.

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Yellow moth with a face
May 4, 2010
Hi Bugman!
I have a new moth/caterpillar from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Moth

My housekeeper found the caterpillar munching on guava leaves. After two days it made the silk bag and pupated – from April 15 till this am. I have not seen this moth before. I found lots of silk bags on the trees but, they have a little role and the pupa is dried up inside.
MiriamR.
Kemang, South Jakarta, Indonesia

Moth Caterpillar

Hi Miriam,
WE have not had any luck quickly trying to locate your moth on Bill Oehlke’s comprehensive website, nor on the Wild Silkmoths of Indonesia website.  The closest match is the genus Cricula, but that does not look correct to us.  Hopefully, we will be able to provide you with an answer, either by contacting Bill Oehlke, or by having one of our readers supply a response.

Update:
Bill Oehlke just wrote to us that this is NOT a Giant Silkmoth.  HMMMM.  What could it be?

Ryan and Mr. Goodwraith provide identifications
Not a saturniid, but a member of  Lasiocampoidea. This is a female Trabala pallida.
Ryan

I’m sure ryan’s right. Compare with the specimen shown at http://www.malaeng.com/blog/?p=5898. The placement of the markings seems distinctive for T. pallida.
Mr. Goodwraith

Ed. Note: The Lasiocampoidea are known as Tent Caterpillars and Lappet Moths. Read Full Article →

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April 2, 2010
We took the day off yesterday and went to Joshua Tree National Park to see the desert in bloom, and we saw gorgeous wild flowers in the low desert.  Alas, we saw virtually no insects except a few honey bees and some nondescript flies that refused to sit still long enough for a photo.  We did take several poor photos of these Tent Caterpillars which were quite plentiful.  We believe they are Southwestern Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma incurvum, which is pictured on BugGuide, though they might also be California Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma californicum, also pictured on BugGuideMila Zinkova’s image on Wikimedia Commons puts our photo to shame, and she visited Joshua Tree exactly a year before our own visit.

Tent Caterpillars

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I’ve seen these brown leaves on Sideroxylon salicifolium and wonder what could be causing it.
October 1, 2009
Hello dear bug people. I keep seeing webbing and dead leaf clusters on Willow Bustic and wonder if the attached bugs/larvae that I saw today are the cause.

Brown Leaves: Insect Damage???

Fall Webworm Leaf Damage

Would you know what they are by these not so great pictures?
Thank you so much, Susan
North Key Largo, Florida

Unknown Web Spinning Insect

Giant Katydid Hatchlings

Dear Susan,
WE are really puzzled by these hatching insects, but the webbing they are constructing does appear to be on the brown clusters of leaves.  We are calling in the big guns and are requesting assistance from Eric Eaton.

Unknown Web Spinning Insect

Giant Katydids hatching in Webworm Nest

Update from Eric Eaton
October 3, 2009
Daniel:
I’m at a friend’s computer right now, but my quick answer is that those are most likely katydid nymphs hatching from eggs.  Probably giant katydids (Stilpnochlora couloniana).  They would not be the cause of the leaf damage, and certainly not the cause of the webbing, which may be a product of the Fall Webworm or a related caterpillar.
Hope this helps.
Eric

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Can you help identify these Caterpillars
Sat, May 23, 2009 at 8:33 PM
Dear Bugman,
I recently found a silk nest filled with these black-brown caterpillars. They have rusty hair covering their bodies and have distinctive white and orange markings. The orange markings in a triangular shape and there are 2 to each segment of their bodies. the white markings are found along their sides as well as down the top of their bodies between the orange markings. Several people have said they could be Painted Ladies, yet they really don’t resemble any pictures I have found.
Thank you for your help
Penny
Kelowna British Columbia, Canada

Western Tent Caterpillars in Captivity

Western Tent Caterpillars in Captivity

Dear Penny,
We regret to inform you that these are not Painted Lady Caterpillars, nor any other lovely butterfly, but rather, they are Western Tent Caterpillars, Malacosoma californicum, which can be viewed on BugGuide.  The larvae are social and gregarious feeders that construct silken nests for protection when not feeding.  Here is what the Washington State University Biology and Control of Tent Caterpillars website indicates:  “The western tent caterpillar ( Malacosoma californicum pluviale Dyar) is often the most numerous in western Washington. Its orange and black markings are familiar to many people. This species spins tents on the tips of branches. The eggs hatch in early spring just as the new buds break in April or May. The young larvae begin feeding in groups. The larvae of both species molt (shed their skins) four times during their 5- to 6-week growing period.
As the caterpillars mature, they begin to feed in small groups or singly. Just before they spin their cocoons in mid-June, they crawl about looking for a protected place in plants or on structures to attach their cocoons. The adult moths emerge in approximately 7 to 10 days. The moths are stout-bodied and light brown. They often fly in clusters around street or porch lights on summer evenings. After the moths mate, the females lay 100 to 350 eggs in a froth-covered band around small twigs or branches of host trees. The eggs mature in 3 weeks but do not hatch until the following spring.
Tent caterpillars are primarily a nuisance. They do not transmit diseases to humans, do not bite, and are not poisonous. During years when large numbers of these caterpillars hatch, they can cause slippery roads and walks when they leave the trees.
Benefits of a caterpillar outbreak can be numerous in a natural setting. While caterpillars are distasteful to most birds, some birds feed on them. When alders and other trees are defoliated, the shrubs and trees below receive increased sunlight, giving some of them a boost in growth. The eaten leaves pass through the caterpillar’s body and emerge as little pellets which can break down easily, returning nutrients to the forest floor. Pupae provide nutritious meals for small mammals, and moths are eaten by birds and bats.
Where trees are crowded or stressed, the defoliation could be a life and death matter. Weak trees may die; healthy trees will leaf out again. In a natural setting, surviving trees can prosper in the absence of competition.
Healthy ornamental trees and shrubs should survive even serious defoliation. Trees which have been under stress (excess cold, heat, crowding, drought, flooding, etc.) may succumb and require more protection.
Natural Enemies
Tent caterpillars have numerous enemies. One is a tachinid fly which parasitizes the larvae by depositing white eggs on the caterpillar’s body. When the egg hatches, a small maggot burrows into the caterpillar and begins feeding. Tent caterpillars are also subject to a virus disease called wilt. While such natural enemies will reduce the number of tent caterpillars eventually, this process is gradual and may take 2 or more years. During that time, the affected trees may suffer such severe damage, that they will not recover. “

Western Tent Caterpillars

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underwing caterpillars?
Dear Bugman,
We LOVE your site and use it regularly. We also have it linked on our greenhouse/nursery website to encourage our customers to i.d. and learn about bugs rather than freaking out, pouring chemicals on them and otherwise engaging in Unnecessary Carnage. Your site is a fantastic resource — educational and entertaining! So anyhoo, the lumps on this pin oak tree were spotted this afternoon by one of our fellow treehuggers. Upon closer examination, we all had to rub our eyes a couple of times to be sure we weren’t seeing things and confirmed that they were two pinky finger-sized caterpillars perfectly matched to the smooth gray bark of the immature pin oak. When they were still they looked just like part of the tree trunk, and we had to touch them before they began slowly making their way down to the bottom of the trunk headfirst. They had a soft fringe all the way around their bodies — I wish my photo was clearer. They were the coolest dang bugs I’ve seen in a long time. The closest thing I can find on your site is an underwing caterpillar, but the one you have matches a corkier bark. Are their different species that match different trees? Oh yeah, we’re a few miles south of Lawrence, Kansas, as the moth flies. If you can help us out between photograms, we’d be much obliged. Your friend,
Plantlady

Dear Plantlady,
We agree with your assessment that these well camouflaged caterpillars are Underwing Caterpillars in the genus Catocala, but we are at a loss for the exact species. BugGuide has over twenty images of Underwing Caterpillars posted.

Correction: (06/29/2008)
Daniel:
The pair of “underwing caterpillars” are actually two larvae of the “large tolype” moth, Tolype velleda. Very striking, aren’t they!
Eric Eaton

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination