Tents Hatch

The egg case on a small cherry tree on the Dinosaur Trail.

The tent caterpillars eggs that were mentioned in a previous post back in January have hatched.

The gray objects under the egg case and on the twig are caterpillars. The twig measures about 5 mm in diameter.

I first noticed the tiny caterpillars on March 3 as I walked through the Dinosaur Trail. I thought them some kind of fungus growing over the egg case. However, when I put on my glasses I realized that the fuzzy, gray material on the egg case was indeed newly hatched caterpillars ready to march off and feast on fresh green leaves!

The white objects are eggs. The eggs with black in the center have already hatched.
The caterpillars quickly leave the egg case in search of fresh foliage to munch on.
One caterpillar deviates from the course set by the others, presumably in the direction of the fresh young bud on the other side of the twig.

But what are they going to eat? There’s no foliage on the little tree that their parent chose as their birthplace last summer. But, there are buds, and each day the buds swell with growth. There may be enough to sustain at least some of these tiny caterpillars but I’m not convinced that they will all survive.

The tree on which the eggs were deposited is no more than 12 feet tall, a small tree to be sure. I’m not sure that it would be able to support the entire mass of larvae even if it were fully leafed out.

Out of curiousity I checked on the caterpillars today (3/7/12) to see how many were still alive. There seemed to be more caterpillars present and they were all clustered on the buds. Oh, there were a few caterpillars wandering around on the twigs, but the vast majority of the little larvae were working the buds. Will these caterpillars eat themselves to death? Will they eat the buds faster than the buds can grow?

I’ll check back with them later this week and give you an update.


2 responses to Tents Hatch

    • Greg Dodge says:

      Don’t know. It will be interesting to watch them and find out.
      These caterpillars are only about 4 days old, the first instar. I don’t know at what stage they start building their tents to protect themselves from predators, like birds, but that’s going to be a learning experience too. Can’t wait to see what happens!

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