Orientation and dispersal patterns of the eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum F. (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae)

L. K. Rieske, L. H. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Larvae of the eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum, undergo density-dependent dispersal in response to depleted resources. Because these caterpillars have recently been implicated in abortions of pregnant mares (equine Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, or MRLS), there is increased interest in managing caterpillar populations, potentially through manipulation of caterpillar dispersal behavior. Consequently, we investigated dispersal patterns of food-deprived eastern tent caterpillars in artificial arenas with respect to distance, direction, and response to visual stimuli. Distance traveled is influenced by time of day, and is strongly correlated with time elapsed. Movement is non-random, and correlates closely with the position of the sun. The pattern is more pronounced with foraging third instars than with penultimate fifth instars. Visual cues appear important in caterpillar orientation, and caterpillars are responsive to vertically oriented, black objects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-207
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Insect Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Tom Coleman, Alexandre Diaz, Cameron Flanders, Marie Gantz, Christine Gur, Mark Guthmiller, Shelly Kellogg, Adrienne Kinney, Elizabeth Knapp, Nathan Kunze, Dana Richter, Brian Strom, and Rebecca Trout, all of whom provided invaluable technical assistance. The comments of Ken Haynes and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript. Funding was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and Mclntire Stennis funds from the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. This manuscript is published as Experiment Station Project 03-08-39.


  • Density dependent
  • Dispersal, orientation
  • Malacosoma americanum
  • Mare reproductive loss syndrome
  • Visual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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