Tent Caterpillar, common name for the destructive larva of certain North American moths. It infests fruit and forest trees and does extensive damage by feeding on the foliage. The most familiar species is the apple-tree tent caterpillar, found on apple, cherry, and other fruit trees in the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. The larvae hatch in early spring from a mass of eggs laid the previous autumn in cylindrical bands around the twigs of host trees. Upon hatching they spin a silken web across the branches, forming a tentlike nest that provides a community shelter during the six-week larval stage. The caterpillars do not feed within the tent, but congregate there during the night. When fully grown, the caterpillars are 5 cm (2 in) long, are covered with yellow hairs, and are black with blue and white markings and a white stripe along the back. Adult moths of this species have rather stout, reddish-brown bodies and white bands on the forewings. The females are almost twice the size of the males and have a wingspread of 5 cm (2 in).
The forest tent caterpillar has similar habits and is common on various deciduous trees, especially maples, throughout the forest region of the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. These caterpillars build no tent but spin a silken carpet upon which they gather between foragings. In appearance they differ from the apple-tree caterpillars in having white dots rather than a continuous line on the back. Attempts to control tent caterpillars have been made by using arsenical sprays or by burning the nest at nightfall after the larvae have returned from feeding.
Scientific classification: Tent caterpillars make up the family Lasiocampidae of the order Lepidoptera. The apple-tree tent caterpillar is classified as Malacosoma americanum and the forest tent caterpillar as Malacosoma disstria.