Orientation and Dispersal Patterns of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum F. (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae)

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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.

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