via flickr // CC BY 2.0
Let's face it: Eastern tent caterpillars, commonly known as tent worms, are a nuisance. And that's putting it nicely. Tent worms can completely defoliate trees (eat all of the leaves), they put up ugly "tents" of webbing in tree branches, and have even been implicated in Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, a complication that occurs when horses inadvertently eat the caterpillars.
But, tent worms have one saving grace: they make nice pets. My boys like to collect tent worms and put them in their bug habitat, a small cylinder covered with netting.
Tent worms are fun to watch, since they are active and like to crawl around. They are easy to feed. If Kerm and Little Brother forget to give them fresh offerings of leaves and grass daily, they don't seem to mind. Tent worms tend to get smaller if they aren't eating properly, so it's obvious when you should release them outside (away from your plants!). And, frankly, since they are an insect pest, you don't feel so bad if they die before becoming a moth. Most tent worms aren't as lucky as those in our bug habitat!
An interesting note: I read in several places that tent worms are social creatures. Some folks even described them coming out of their tent in succession, like cars on a train.
I wonder if tent worms get lonely and confused living in a bug habitat?