What kind of caterpillars did this? Hard to believe a healthy tree can survive infestation, but according to the Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC), they can.

Forest tent caterpillars (FTC) (Malacosoma disstria) and eastern tent caterpillars (ETC) (Malacosoma americanum) are native to New York State, says the DEC. Population numbers vary wildly from year to year and are not considered a significant forest threat.

Tent caterpillars and gypsy moths devour leaves in the spring, and if the tree is healthy, it should regrow a new set of leaves by July. Defoliation does reduce future resistance of the caterpillars, and the tree becomes more susceptible to pests and diseases. Evergreens can't regrow quickly and can die as a result of complete defoliation.

James Solomon USDA Forest Service via DEC
James Solomon
USDA Forest Service via DEC

You can tell the caterpillars apart is by the patterns on their backs. The gypsy moth caterpillar has five pairs of blue spots followed by six pairs of red spots along its back. The eastern tent caterpillar has a white line down its back with light blue and black spots on its sides. The forest tent caterpillar has white footprint-shaped marks down its back and light blue stripes on its sides.

Below is a photo is of a webworm and is often confused with the eastern tent caterpillar because it also makes tents in trees and eats leaves, but they differ in many ways.

DEC.NY.Gov. fall webworm tent on end of tree branch
DEC.NY.Gov. fall webworm tent on the end of a tree branch

So what kind of caterpillar created this? The photo was taken at the Federated Church in West Winfield.

Mallory Gilchrist Coffman
Mallory Gilchrist Coffman

The DEC says to control the problem on individual trees, you must remove the egg masses, inhabited tents, and pupa by hand and drop into a container of detergent.   Then install sticky tree wraps on trunks to capture caterpillars as they move up and down trees. Do not attempt to burn tents while they are on trees as it's dangerous and hazardous to the health of the tree.

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