Tent caterpillars build large silk nests in the branches of trees. They leave the nest during the day to feed on leaves, and return to it at night. The nest provides them with a measure of protection from predators, but once they leave the nest, they are eaten by a wide variety of animals.
Bird predators consume the tent caterpillars when they leave the nest, and as moths. Songbirds pick the caterpillars off branches and leaves. Robins, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds and cardinals all eat tent caterpillars. When the caterpillars crawl to the ground to pupate, they are also picked off by ground dwelling birds such as wild turkeys. If they fall out of the tree over water, they may also be consumed by ducks and fish. Birds usually consume them whole.
Eastern and western tent caterpillars are attacked by parasitic wasps in both the egg and larval forms. Forest tent caterpillars are attacked by flesh flies. These parasites lay eggs on the caterpillar eggs or on their bodies. The larva hatch out, and then consume the eggs or caterpillars from the inside out. All species are attacked by stink bugs, hornets and yellow jackets. Once on the ground, they are also attacked by predatory beetles. These predators eat the caterpillars directly by seizing them in their jaws, or sting them and carry them back to their nests to be consumed. When consuming the moths, they cut off the wings.
There are a few mammals that include tent caterpillars as part of their diets. Squirrels sometimes eat the caterpillars off the tree branches, while foxes, raccoons, white footed mice, chipmunks and shrews eat them once they fall to the ground. Bats will eat both the caterpillars and the moths. Some species eat both caterpillar and moths whole, while others leave the moth wings behind.
Reptile and Amphibian Predators
Reptile predators of tent caterpillars include Eastern box turtles, garter snakes, copperheads and skinks. Snakes and lizards are capable of climbing into the trees to go after tent caterpillars, and sometimes even invade the tents. If they fall in water, they may also be consumed by water turtles. A wide variety of frogs will feed on the tent caterpillar moths, including the wood frog and American toad. Reptile and amphibian predators eat tent caterpillar moths and caterpillars whole.
- Yardner: Preventing Tent Caterpillars Next Year
- University of Minnesota Department of Entomology: Eastern Tent Caterpillar
- Fairfax County Public Schools Island Creek Elementary School: Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth
- University of Arizona: Tent Caterpillars in Northern Arizona Above 6000 Foot Elevations; Tom DeGomez
- "The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals"; Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall; 1996