There are two species of moth, among others, which are active now in the form of larvae or caterpillars. They are similar in name and seasonality. They are communal. And, they are both tent caterpillars.
The one above, as labeled, is an eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum). The other, is a forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria). These are the hairy caterpillars we humans most often see crawling across sidewalks, driveways, and everywhere else in spring, after having consumed all or most of the leaves on their host plant. The eastern tent caterpillar is by far the caterpillar most often seen in the hands of young people here at the Museum during this time of year. Every kid has picked up one of these caterpillars, at one time or another.
In eastern tent caterpillar, the adult moths lay their eggs on plants in the rose family. I most often see them on cherry trees. The eggs hatch out in spring and the caterpillars spin a nest, or “tent,” in a crotch of two or more branches of the tree their eggs were laid upon. They feed outside the tent and retreat back inside to rest and digest.
The forest tent caterpillar moth prefers a wider range of hardwoods on which to lay her eggs, supposedly preferring gum trees here in the south. They also hatch out in spring. However, forest tent caterpillars don’t spin tents but collect out in the open in masses on the trunk of the host tree. Both eastern and forest tent caterpillars are attractive creatures, but I think you’d agree that the forest tent caterpillar has the eastern variety beat as far a looks go. They bring to mind a mosaic, or perhaps a Navajo beaded belt.
One more photo of an eastern tent caterpillar, for purely aesthetic reasons.
Have a good one!
Ranger, Greg Dodge