No, tent caterpillars do not turn into butterflies. They are actually a type of moth and make for one of the most destructive pests in the world, causing millions of dollars in damage every year. Tent caterpillars are known to thrive in areas where oak trees are present.
There are three different types of tent caterpillars that reside in North America: the western, forest, and eastern tent caterpillar. Though these nocturnal animals all turn into moths, their distinctive colors and design can recognize eastern and western tent caterpillars.
What are tent caterpillars?
Tented caterpillars are large moth larvae belonging to the genus Malacosoma in the family Lasiocampidae. There are 26 different species. Six of those occur in North America and the rest in Eurasia. Some species have their own subdivisions referred to as subspecies.
Often they are considered pests because of their practice of tearing up trees. It is one of the most social of all caterpillars and has been observed exhibiting a number of impressive behaviors.
The tented caterpillar is unique due to its group behavior. This behavior is apparent when it forms a tent; hence the name tented caterpillar. The caterpillar will join together with other individuals to form a tent out of silk for protection from predators, parasites, and bad weather conditions.
The silk tent also serves as a place to digest food and sleep at night. It is formed by weaving together the leaves of the host plant and then spinning a silk mat over the top that weighs down the leaves into a tent-like structure. If you were to take away the silk mat from underneath, you would notice that all the leaves would fall out due to gravity because there is nothing holding them together anymore.
What does a tent caterpillar turn into?
The adult eastern tent moth is reddish-brown with a dark spot at the tip of each forewing and does not have a functional mouth, so it does not eat as an adult, only as a larva. The female moth lays her eggs in clusters on twigs in late summer or early fall.
How long before tent caterpillars turn into moths?
Pupation occurs in a cocoon that is created with silk, typically on tree trunks, fences, or leaf litter. Roughly two weeks later, an adult moth emerges and eventually lays overwintering eggs.
The entire life cycle of the forest tent caterpillar completes in one year. The adult female moths lay eggs in July and August on tree branches that hatch the following spring. The eggs are laid in bulk that is covered by a frothy, white substance and resembles bird droppings. These egg masses overwinter under the bark or encircle twigs. The young larvae emerge in the spring and feed through the summer months. They mature into full-grown caterpillars by late June or early July.
Are tent caterpillars and armyworms the same thing?
No. Tent caterpillars are a different species from armyworms, but they do have similar feeding habits and life cycles.
Both tent caterpillars and armyworms are voracious eaters and can strip trees of their leaves in a short time, especially when they hatch en masse. The good news is that both species don’t live very long — only about two months — so their damage is seasonal.