NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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Poplar tentmaker moths, Clostera inclusa, emerge from cocoons in leaf litter in late spring to mate and lay eggs in batches of a hundred or more on the undersides of poplar and willow leaves. The eggs are tiny, spherical, and laid close together. The brownish gray moths are about 1/2 inch long, and they have broken white lines and various blotches on each wing. From the eggs hatch tiny caterpillars that eventually grow into somewhat hairy caterpillars with four, narrow, yellow stripes down the back and up to 13/4 inch long. Just behind the head are two black dots. A larger single black dot occurs about a third of the way back from the black, shiny head. A prominent black dot is close to the tail end. We have at least two generations a year here in North Carolina with enough overlap in the generations that it is possible to find caterpillars from May to October.

Poplar tentmaker moth

Poplar tentmaker moths are in flight most of the growing season.

Poplar tentmaker moths

Poplar tentmaker moths are fairly well camouflaged on the willow bark.

poplar tentmaker caterpillar

Mature poplar tentmaker caterpillars are usually hidden inside their tents.

Host Plants

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Poplar tentmaker caterpillars are sometimes a real nuisance on poplar although they feed on willow as well. Poplar tentmakers sometimes completely defoliate groups of trees by mid summer. This pest is most abundant on trees growing in the open or at the edge of woods rather than trees in deep woods. Consequently, it tends to be an urban pest.

Poplar tentmakers fasten their tent

Poplar tentmakers fasten their tents together with silk strands.

Poplar tentmakers retreat

Poplar tentmakers retreat into their tents during the day.

Poplar tentmakers use silk

Poplar tentmakers use silk to tie leaves together.

Poplar tentmakers sometimes completely defoliate willows.

Poplar tentmakers sometimes completely defoliate willows.

Residential Recomendations

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The poplar tentmaker is not reported to be resistant to pesticides, but it may be somewhat difficult to control because the larvae are concealed within the "tents." Sevin, neem extract, or Bacillus thuringiensis should give adequate control of poplar tentmakers, especially when the caterpillars are young. Other pesticides labeled for landscape use should work as well. Bear in mind that later in the growing season, defoliation by this and other pests of willow and poplar will cause little harm to the long term health of these trees. Frost is going to kill any remaining leaves in a few weeks anyhow. In late summer and fall, it would be better to wait until the following year earlier in the growing season to see if poplar tentmakers return before applying an insecticide (and then only if there are a bunch of caterpillars).

Other Resources

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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.

Author

Professor Emeritus
Entomology & Plant Pathology

Publication date: Jan. 17, 2019
Revised: Oct. 10, 2019

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