What to Do With Gypsy Moths?

Gypsy moths have been a plague in Michigan for a long time now and likely will be for years to come. That’s the problem with invasive exotic pests, once they’re established in an area they are difficult if not impossible to remove. While we have past the point to prevent a hatch of new ones this year (that happens in May), there are things you can do to control them.

The article below was one I wrote in 2014 for our annual newsletter. It lists several resources that may prove useful if you find yourself battling voracious gypsy moth caterpillars this summer.

 

Gypsy Moth: A New Look at an Old Enemy

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

Invasive species have been making news headlines across the country. People want to know what they are, where they are, if they pose a threat to their community, and what they can do about them if they find one.

The new ones are what usually capture everyone’s attention; Asian Carp, Asian Long-Horned Beetle, and Giant Hogweed just to name a few. Emerald Ash Borer makes this list as well. While not exactly new, the fight continues as the Emerald Ash Borer is still spreading into the western states. However, we can’t forget about the invaders that are already established, ones that may have fallen off our collective radar because they have been around so long they have become commonplace. The fact remains they’re still invasive, they’re still a problem, and we need to stay proactive about doing our part to control them.

Gypsy moth is a good example. This Eurasian moth has been a long-standing problem in Michigan. They were introduced to the United States in Massachusetts in 1869 and made it to Michigan by 1954. Since female moths don’t fly, their spread across the country has been largely attributed to human transportation of eggs or caterpillars. And while there are several natural factors for population control, including diseases, parasites, and predators, we still get the occasional population boom where they seem to be everywhere. The caterpillars have a voracious appetite and can infest a wide range of broad-leaf trees, but favors oak and aspen. Defoliation by the caterpillars can cause extensive damage and even death of the infested tree if it is old or weakened by disease or stress.

And while eradication of the gypsy moth is a dream of the past, there are some things you can do to control them on your own property.

  • Properly Water and Fertilize – This is your first line of defense. Keeping an eye on your trees and shrubs, making sure they are healthy, will reduce the pests attracted to them and reduce the amount of damage done if they are attacked.
  • Sanitation – Keep your yard as clean as possible. Remove dead branches, stumps, etc. where the adult moths may lay egg masses. Watch out for eggs transported on firewood or recreational vehicles (boats, trailers, RV’s, etc.)
  • Destroy Egg Masses – Gypsy moth egg masses are around for nearly nine months (August – May). Seeking out and destroying egg masses each year will reduce populations.
  • Tree Barriers – Various bands around tree trunks can help prevent caterpillar movement into and out of the tree canopy. Some act as traps (sticky), some as deterrents (slippery). Cloth hiding bands can also be made. These bands serve as hiding places for the caterpillars during the day so you can easily find them.

For more information about gypsy moths or other invasive species, check out these resources:

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