Forest Tent Caterpillar

A native species, the Forest Tent Caterpillar heavily defoliates hardwood trees and shrubs with the potential to

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completely defoliate a tree. However, it is not considered to be an extremely threatening pest.

Latin Name

Malacosoma disstria

Trees Affected

Aspen, birch, basswood/linden, oak

Threat to Trees



Rapid defoliation occurs in fall but trees often regain foliage and remain generally unaffected. Infestations lasting three or more years may lead to tree mortality. Typical outbreaks last two to four years, likely due to parasitoids, predators, starvation through competition, and weather.

Signs & Symptoms

Silken mat where caterpillars clump and aggregate on the trunk and branches, significant defoliage, round egg masses surrounding small branches.


Despite the name, forest tent caterpillars do not make a true silken tent. However, the larvae do spin a silken mat where caterpillars clump and aggregate. The Caterpillars molt together and live in deciduous trees. Larvae feed on woody trees and shrups, but adult moths prefer oak, sweetgum, tupelo, aspen and sugar maple. Females lay up to 300 eggs. Caterpillars are between 2 and 5 inches. Population cycles every 10-16 years.

Domestic Origins


Geographic Location

Eastern United States

Photo Credits