(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson and the Waterloo Natural History Association for the photos and information in this column.)
The unsightly webs of the eastern tent caterpillar show up on area cherry, plum and apple trees almost every year, although they are more abundant in some years than in others.
One web can be home to hundreds of hungry caterpillars. Although they rarely kill their host trees, they can slow growth, reduce and fruit yield. Besides, those nasty webs filled with caterpillar droppings can be really gross, detracting considerably from the beauty of the tree.
For those who have had trouble with these insects in the past, there is a relatively easy way to get rid of them. It just takes some good observation skills.
The eggs that will produce this spring’s tent caterpillars were laid last summer. With careful observation, one can find the egg cases and remove them before they hatch.
The egg masses are shiny and reddish brown, and are usually laid about six inches from the end of a twig. Each egg mass is three quarters of an inch to 1-inch long and may produce two-to-three hundred caterpillars.
Winter is a good time to remove the egg masses, although any time before the trees leaf out will work as well. The shiny lumps can easily be spotted on the bare branches, especially on sunny days.
Peel the egg masses from the twigs and squash them.