Monday, May 23, 2016

No Tent Caterpillars!

The flowering crab in bloom
The flowering crab in our front yard is one of the favourite foods of tent caterpillars,  We planted that caterpillar magnet in the front yard over 30 years ago.  For the first 20 or so years, tent caterpillar nests in our tree was a spring event.  Always one caterpillar tent, sometimes two and in bad years three or more webbed homes were occupied by a horde of caterpillars ready to defoliate the tree, the tent growing in size as its occupants grew. 

We controlled the caterpillars and the damage they can do by burning the ever-growing nests.   Waiting 'til dusk to ensure that most of the caterpillars had returned to the nest after their day of foraging, we cut off the branch the nest was on, and burned the nest with its load of caterpillars inside. This yearly "cutting of the tents" was part of the annual pruning regimen of the flowering crab.

Then came the chickadees.  They arrived one summer and stayed to nest.  My son-in-law began feeding them, so the family soon stayed all winter.  The chickadees supplemented their winter diet of  black sunflower seeds courtesy of my son-in-law with the protein stored in the crab tree in the form of hibernating insects and tent caterpillar egg cases.

Now, during fall, winter and early spring, the unquenchable little chickadees clean every inch of  the tree searching out eggs and egg cases hidden in the bark. They are diligent in their work; no protein source is missed. 

And so, thanks to the chickadee family (and the nuthatches and the little downy woodpecker, too) there are no tent caterpillar egg cases in the tree come spring.  AND that means no tent caterpillars. 

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