Forest Tent Caterpillar and Moth

forest tent caterpillar

Common Name: Forest tent caterpillar

Scientific Name: Malacosoma disstria

Season: One generation per year, with caterpillars in late spring to early summer, and adults soon after.

Food: Alder, basswood, birches, cherries, oaks, poplars, and willows. Adults do not feed.

Ecology: Although related to eastern tent caterpillars, forest tent caterpillars don’t form “tents”. Instead, they form large silken mats near the base of branches or the tree itself, where they gather in large numbers, sometimes in the hundreds, to molt or to rest. When a caterpillar leaves the mat to look for food, it leaves behind a trail made of silk. Like a trail of bread crumbs, the caterpillars follow the silk trail left behind in search for tender leaves. Forest tent caterpillars, like the eastern tent caterpillar, may defoliate the trees they feed on, but rarely do they ever kill their host plants. The eggs overwinter and hatch the following spring.

Doug Tallamy Photo


Forest tent caterpillar moth. Adam Mitchell Photo