Photo by Melody

American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

Order: Lepidoptera (le-pid-OP-ter-a) (Info)
Family: Lasiocampidae
Genus: Malacosoma
Species: americanum (am-er-ih-KAY-num) (Info)


No positives
4 neutrals
10 negatives


This bug has been reportedly found in the following regions:

Vincent, Alabama
Barling, Arkansas
Paron, Arkansas
Pomona Park, Florida
Fayetteville, Georgia
Thomson, Georgia
Ashkum, Illinois
River Forest, Illinois
Jeffersonville, Indiana
Benton, Kentucky
Ewing, Kentucky
Hebron, Kentucky
Melbourne, Kentucky
Norridgewock, Maine
Frederick, Maryland
Oakland, Maryland
Silver Spring, Maryland
Benton Harbor, Michigan
Florence, Mississippi
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Saint Robert, Missouri
Hudson, New Hampshire
Denville, New Jersey
Battleboro, North Carolina
Marion, North Carolina
Oxford, North Carolina
Glouster, Ohio
Meshoppen, Pennsylvania
Newburg, Pennsylvania
Pine Grove, Pennsylvania
Port Matilda, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Conway, South Carolina
Cookeville, Tennessee
Desoto, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston, Texas
Huffman, Texas
Charlottesville, Virginia
Fairfax, Virginia
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Gate City, Virginia
Irvington, Virginia
Spanaway, Washington
Middleton, Wisconsin
Oregon, Wisconsin

By melody
Thumbnail #1 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by melody

By melody

Thumbnail #2 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by melody

By Sarahskeeper

Thumbnail #3 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by Sarahskeeper

By DiOhio

Thumbnail #4 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by DiOhio

By onewish1

Thumbnail #5 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by onewish1

By onewish1

Thumbnail #6 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by onewish1

By onewish1

Thumbnail #7 of American Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) by onewish1

There are a total of 20 photos.
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Member Notes:

Negative melody On Aug 2, 2006, melody from Benton, KY
(Zone 7a) wrote:

The caterpillars are the destructive part of the life cycle in this species. The small brown moths do not have functional mouth only to breed.

They deposit their eggs in fruit or nut trees, and the caterpillars live in a communal web or tent...emerging in the day to methodically strip foliage from the host tree, returning at dark to the safety of the silken web.

They are destructive enough to actually kill the tree. I take a butane torch to any I find in my trees...makes quick work of them, and I've not used any chemicals that would endanger good bugs or birds.

Negative duckmother On Aug 5, 2006, duckmother from North Little Rock, AR
(Zone 7b) wrote:

We have two black cherry trees and both had bad bug tents this spring. They were too high in the tree to torch but when they came down the tree...lookout. We had hoped that our ducks would eat them but they did not like the caterpillars either. So, we found other means...mostly a shoe!

Negative DiOhio On Jan 25, 2007, DiOhio from Corning, OH
(Zone 6a) wrote:

Like stated above, the larva to this moth is a serious defoliating pest.

Host Plants: Many trees and shrubs, especially apple, cherry trees, flowering crabapples and other members of the rose family.

Negative onewish1 On May 15, 2007, onewish1 from Denville, NJ
(Zone 6b) wrote:

I just learned how destructive these little buggers are... but I was fascinated how the little hole in the top of the tent was the entrance and the caterpillars must have been tending to the larva inside and you can see how each layer they pass through to get to the lower levels.... caterpillar condo!

Neutral yotedog On Apr 18, 2008, yotedog from Raleigh, NC wrote:

The caterpillars come out approximately mid-April in my zone 7b garden, and are quite destructive. My child loves them, and can easily find 20 or so at a time at their peak...their favorite garden plants include roses (especially buds), lettuce, fruit tree leaves/flowers and pretty much anything else that's coming up! Not fond of iris or other thick-skinned leaves.

Negative raudenbush On Apr 28, 2008, raudenbush from Fredericksburg, VA wrote:

I recently had a very spectacular run-in with these caterpillars. Apparently, while they are not poisonous, their little spines can irritate sensitive skin. My garden is a National Wildlife Certified Backyard Habitat and I don't use any insecticides so when the caterpillars had finished eating my crab apple tree (which I had decided to take out anyway), and ventured out into the rest of my garden, I attempted to simply pick as many as I could off everything and drown them in a bucket of water. That part worked great, but in the process I was using my bandana to wipe persperation off my face and neck with the same glove I used to pick the caterpillars, thereby transferring the spines to my tender skin. I'm currently on a second round of steriods and after two full weeks the rash is finally starting to go away. The itching was worse than poison ivy! So please, be warned. I would discourage anyone from touching these guys. I should have known to beware when even the birds don't eat them!

Negative aggscott On May 1, 2008, aggscott from Wilkes Barre, PA
(Zone 6a) wrote:

I walk daily in the woods around my home and these guys are everywhere! They are eating all the leaves and I think this year will be the worse in a long time..WOW they are awful!

Negative jnklz On May 17, 2008, jnklz from Fairfax, VA wrote:

We've always had a few tents' worth of these things, but this year, they're everywhere. Eating everything! An entire army of them is bivouacked in a tree in front of the house, located within easy reach of a weeping cherry tree. One day while mowing the lawn a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the entire tree was covered with silk trails -- and piles of the pernicious pillars themselves. Hundreds of them! After they ate the leaves off my rose bush, I decided I had to take action. So I consulted an Ortho book, purchased some liquid sevin and a sprayer, and doused the trees as far up as I could spray. The herd seems somewhat less numerous now (but then, nothing they like has any leaves left). But the previous commenter who remarked about their propensity to cause rashes seems to be on to something. I thought I had poison ivy-related lesions on my legs, but now I wonder if this wasn't caused directly by the caterpillars. (I did find some of the critters climbing my legs while I was on the ground trying to fix the mower). I previously theorized that the caterpillars had visited poison ivy prior to visiting me, but that was half in jest. (Why couldn't they just eat the poison ivy instead?) Update: Apparently, the tent caterpillars really are poisonous.

Negative WaterCan2 On May 24, 2008, WaterCan2 from Eastern Long Island, NY
(Zone 7a) wrote:

Found one on some honeysuckle vines and took some pics of him, found out how destructive they are after I had already let him go... near my garden! Ugh!!

Negative nancyjorg2 On Jun 2, 2008, nancyjorg2 from River Forest, IL wrote:

These caterpillars totally stripped my weeping cherry tree and several Annabelle Hydrangeas. I caught a nest in my weeping crab apple before they could do damage there too. After spraying last weekend, I'm finding new leaf growth on the hydrangeas and it looks like little buds are starting to form on the totally naked weeping cherry. This all happened while away for just one week! These are terrible pests in the garden and the worst I've seen in 10 years.

Neutral heabears On May 7, 2009, heabears from Spanaway, WA
(Zone 8a) wrote:

I often hear about people burning them out. I have two stories: This happened when I was a girl, I am 60 now. My mother picked up a few branches with the tents attached, that dad had cut from the apple tree. She had a fire going in the fireplace, in the house, a good hot fire as I remember ! The tents were only small, and only 2 or 3 tents, sooooooo in the fireplace they went !! Well several hours later HAIRLESS, and quite alive caterpillars came crawling out Mom killed them then, but the fire had not !
When I was 35 my husband and I lived on a old dairy farm that had an old apple orchard. He was from NJ and new to Washington country life. He had managed to get all the tent caterpillars out of the trees except for one tent. It was at the top of a 30 ft. tree. When he was showing me this we were in our bed room , it was the second story and over looked the orchard. I grabbed my shot gun loaded the bird shot, opened the window, and blasted the tent, it was all gone ! I don't think it did much to kill the caterpillars but, it was worth it to see the look on my husbands face !

Negative LadyAshleyR On Oct 25, 2009, LadyAshleyR from Oakland, MD wrote:

I remember these pests in the cherry trees that used to stand next to my dad's house quite well.
I also remember how all the kids loved to play with them... or step on them...
And as long as I live I will never forget not only how destructive they are, but their disgustingly unique smell.

Neutral PriscillaKing On May 1, 2013, PriscillaKing from Gate City, VA wrote:

I was tempted to give them a "praise" because nobody else did. They're mostly harmless, although squishy, and their social lives are sort of interesting. One of my sisters even manages to hypnotize them into perching in decorative positions on her clothes. This has to be the only caterpillar anybody would think of using as an ornament! I would never consider spraying to poison tent caterpillars. Too easy to get rid of them before they hatch. Or, failing that, take a stick to them.

Neutral RESORT2ME On May 2, 2013, RESORT2ME from BATTLEBORO, NC wrote:

Today, I found one of these caterpillars on my Indian Hawthorn shrubbery.

4 of the 9 the shrubs are partially defoliated and I have been wondering why. I'll be searching for more caterpillars.

In looking up several references I ran across this interesting article:

There were two tents in the crab-apple tree in early April. A spraying of melatheon stopped their activity. That also stopped the blossoms. They shriveled up. NO BEAUTY this year from that tree.

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