Look around the Parade Ground and the Fishers Island Conservancy’s Demonstration Garden next to the Movie Theater and you will see many nests of tent caterpillars in the cherry trees. The caterpillars and their tents get bigger and bigger and there are fewer and fewer leaves on the cherry trees. Should we be concerned and rush out to eliminate these pests? No! Sit back and let the birds do the work.
This came in from the Conservancy’s naturalist, Adam Mitchell:
“I wouldn’t be concerned about the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. These are native species that are feeding on native plants (mostly cherry when I was on the island last week). These caterpillars, in turn, will provide food for breeding birds like orioles in the parade grounds and help support whip-poor-wills when they turn into moths. Tent caterpillars can defoliate young trees, especially ornamentals, but native trees will recover within a month (just part of the natural process!).”
As Tom Sargent pointed out, Baltimore Orioles eat them, as do Blue Jays, Chickadees and Nuthatches. The orioles have a unique way to consume the tent caterpillars – they skin them! This helps get through the all the hair the caterpillars have. The adult caterpillars, however, are actively consumed by many birds and bats, so they are a welcome addition to the island.
Photos by JT Ahrens