What the Helen of Troy is This?

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I was just admiring the woods from the Melvin Hazen Trail and then I noticed this and ran faster than that time I was surrounded by ne’er-do-wells at 2:30am…

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23 Comment

  • Tent caterpillars

  • Don’t go anywhere near the National Arboretum, then. It’s infested. Quite disgusting.

    • Yeah, it’s a mess over there. Do they not control for pests? Trying to keep things natural? Some of the tree specimens won’t survive a real infestation.

  • Tent caterpillars. Destructive little devils!

    • They’ve co-evolved with the native black cherry. Leave them alone. The tree will flush out again. Amazing food for migrating birds, and some of the first protein they’ll have access to.

  • Couldn’t it also be gypsy moth larvae? Both they and tent caterpillars look essentially the same…

    • Comment Artist

      The larvae look almost the same, but gypsy moths don’t build tents like that. Fortunately tent caterpillars are far less destructive than gypsy moths.

  • Roman candle target . . .

  • Definitely tent caterpillars. They’re soft and smushy 🙂 fun to pick up.

  • How is this your first encounter with tent caterpillars?!? They’re ALLLLLLL over this area!

    • All over my bushes and trees. Maybe great for birds, but they were not so great for my azaleas last year.

  • Not necessarily great for the trees, if they over eat the leaves, but no particular problem for humans.

  • Girl on a Hill

    Tent caterpillars 🙁 They are awful for the trees they inhabit. Eat up all the foliage. I hope the President and First lady (Eagles) clean some of them out!

  • They were alllllll over the place when I grew up in southern MD, and I only just realized that I actually haven’t seen as many in recent years as I remember… fond memories of collecting them on the playground and seeing who could find the biggest one, they’re soft and tickly. Non-threatening to humans, havoc-wreakers to trees and plants.

  • Interesting facts about tent caterpillars: They are social and feed in groups. They also poop a lot when they feed and their “fecal pellets” dropping through trees can sound like rainfall. In the moth phase, males live for about a week but females usually die in less than 24 hours. Although caterpillars can defoliate a large area, trees rarely sustain lasting damage.

  • Don’t know why everyone is insisting these are “tent caterpillars’ when Fairfax county sprays for gypsy mothswith these exact same nests every year since the 1990’s. Maybe I am the only native who lived in Virginia before DC on this blog? The nests look exactly the same as “tent caterpillars” but the caterpillars turn to moths.

    Give “gypsy moth nest” a google. They are far more common in our area than “tent caterpillars” and there’s even an eradication program in Fairfax County. Maryland has one, too, I’m sure.

    • At my elementary school in DC we used to do a public service for one of the school events where kids would collect gypsy moth caterpillars then they’d all be put in a cardboard box and one lucky kid would get to stand on another piece of cardboard and crush them all. Good times.

    • Every extension agency site, and lot of other reputable sites are quite emphatic that gypsy moths do not build nests. All those “gypsy moth nest” google hits are people who have confused tent caterpillars with gypsy moths.

    • You may be a Genuine Virginia Native, but you’ve got a couple facts wrong:

      – Gypsy moths do not build tents. There are a number of lep species that do, including our eastern tent caterpillar here, but gypsy moths ain’t one of them.

      – All caterpillars turn into moths/butterflies.

      Try Googling “gypsy moth vs. eastern tent caterpillar”. Up close, the caterpillars look pretty different.

  • Gypsy moths!

  • Those look like gypsy moth caterpillars to me. Ugh.

  • These are Eastern tent caterpillars, a native species whose abundance can fluctuate a lot year-to-year.
    A dichotomous key:
    1a. There’s NO webby tent…………………Gypsy Moth
    1b. There IS a webby tent………………….Go to 2
    2a. Caterpillars in the spring………………Tent Caterpillar
    2b. Caterpillars in the summer/fall………Fall Webworm

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