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Which Caterpillar is Eating My Landscape Trees?

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Gypsy Moth, or Fall Webworm?


Eastern tent caterpillar

Eastern tent caterpillar.

Photo: © Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

Caterpillars that defoliate trees in your home landscape can be reason for concern, and sometimes require control measures. Three well-known caterpillars – eastern tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, and fall webworm – are often misidentified by homeowners trying to solve defoliation problems.

Though the caterpillars themselves might look similar, these three species have distinct habits and characteristics that make it easy to tell them apart. You can use the information in this chart to determine which landscape pest is munching on your shade and ornamental trees.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Gypsy Moth, or Fall Webworm?

CharacteristicEastern Tent CaterpillarGypsy MothFall Webworm
When You'll See Caterpillarsearly springmid-spring to early summerlate summer to fall
Tentsin the crotch of branches, not usually enclosing foliagenone – not a tent caterpillarat the ends of branches, always enclosing foliage
Feeding Habitsleave the tent to feed several times per dayearly instars feed at night near tree tops, later instars feed almost constantlyfeed within the tent, expanding the tent as needed to enclose more foliage
Foodusually cherry, apple, plum, peach, and hawthorn trees many hardwood trees, especially oaks and aspensover 100 hardwood trees
Damageusually aesthetic (trees can recover)can completely defoliate treesusually aesthetic (just before autumn leaf drop)
Native RangeNorth AmericaEurope, Asia, North AfricaNorth America
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