Wednesday, April 19, 2017

silken birdfeeders

The Eastern tent caterpillar is the larva stage of a rather nondescript small brown moth. (Trust me. It’s small and brown. You’d hardly notice it, would have difficulty describing it to anyone. That's nondescript.)

Early last summer, the female adult moths laid her varnish-coated egg masses—hundreds of eggs—in the crotches of trees. The females were very particular. They only laid their eggs on the trees with leaves her young would eat. Cherries, apples and crab apples are their most common host plants.

The eggs remain there for over nine months. In early spring the tiny larvae hatch and begin spinning a small silken tent where they live protected during the day. At night the caterpillars venture out to eat leaves; their sole purpose in life is to eat a lot and grow.

The caterpillars return to their nests each morning and because they've grown—which tends to happen if you eat all night—they add to their nest to accommodate their new bulk.

People often panic when they see these tents in their trees. They want to attack them with kerosene and fire. Napalm is no longer available for household use. But relax. These silken tents are really just natural birdfeeders. Only a small percentage of the caterpillars survive, the birds eat most of them. The other day I watched a blue jay standing on top of one of the nests tossing down caterpillars as fast as it could like they were shrimp from an Aussie's barbie. Ga-day mate.

I wonder what they taste like? A bit hairy, I would imagine.

Eastern tent caterpillars, a.k.a. bird food

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