Our Caterpillar of the Week is painted with brilliant blue and yellow, is flamboyant and impossible to ignore, and is arguably the most social living caterpillar in the whole world -- it is the misunderstood, despised, and embattled Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum.
Eastern Tent Caterpillars have a horrible reputation. After all, in some years they occur in such incredible numbers that they can strip the cherry, apple, and other fruit trees of a region bare. Even in years when they are less numerous, a single egg mass laid in your backyard flowering cherry can cause havoc.
But this is just part of their incredible story. The more I have delved into the details of their biology the more respect I have gained for this unique species. From their overwintering strategies to their chemical communications, to their diverse array of specialized predators and parasitoids that feed on only them, the lives of Eastern Tent Caterpillars are full of surprises.
Watching them grow this spring, I no longer see a pest, but a valuable resource and an insect to take pride in. These creatures are unique and, once you take the time to really see them, beautiful. They are an incredible resource for education and could be used in curriculum ranging from first grade metamorphosis units to high school senior biology and chemistry classes.
I hope you will stay tuned as we explore them this week and maybe next in greater detail.
- Sam Jaffe
Each week (or at least SOME weeks!) The Caterpillar Lab features a "Caterpillar of the Week." Each featured caterpillar is a species we've raised at our lab in Keene, NH. We hope you enjoy meeting the caterpillars of New England!