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?
|Characteristic||Eastern Tent Caterpillar||Gypsy Moth||Fall Webworm|
|When You'll See Caterpillars||early spring||mid-spring to early summer||late summer to fall|
|Tents||in the crotch of branches, not usually enclosing foliage||none – not a tent caterpillar||at the ends of branches, always enclosing foliage|
|Feeding Habits||leave the tent to feed several times per day||early instars feed at night near tree tops, later instars feed almost constantly||feed within the tent, expanding the tent as needed to enclose more foliage|
|Food||usually cherry, apple, plum, peach, and hawthorn trees||many hardwood trees, especially oaks and aspens||over 100 hardwood trees|
|Damage||usually aesthetic (trees can recover)||can completely defoliate trees||usually aesthetic (just before autumn leaf drop)|
|Native Range||North America||Europe, Asia, North Africa||North America|