Gypsy Moths – Where Did they Come From?

It is hard to believe that an insect less than three inches in length can be so destructive but Gypsy Moths can defoliate entire neighborhoods of trees in weeks. In 2016 Massachusetts suffered more than 350,000 acres of defoliation from the dreaded Gypsy Moth caterpillars. This was the biggest outbreak since the early 1980s and has alarmed agriculturalists around the region. This year promises to be just as harmful an infestation according to the University of Massachusetts Agriculture Extension School.

The outbreak of these invasive, plant munching species is not new to the New England area. We have had numerous years where the defoliation was intense especially during the 80s and 90s. Gypsy Moths are not hard to spot as they are hairy caterpillars with blue and red spots varied on their bodies. They grow to be about three inches long and seem to be everywhere during an outbreak. You may notice them crawling on your car, trees, sidewalks and anywhere outside.

According to Boston.com these insects became a problem when they were introduced to Massachusetts in the late 1860s by E. Leopold Trouvelot, who brought them to Medford from France to study the caterpillars for silk production. Since then New England has experienced numerous outbreaks. Until 1989, New England would typically get a “population explosion” of gypsy moths, followed by a collapse. But at the end of the 1980s, a Japanese fungus introduced to North America in the early 1900s called entomophaga maimaiga started killing the caterpillars. Since then, the fungus has played a large role in keeping the gypsy moth population low, along with other diseases and natural predators.

Visit us again next week when we discuss the damage caused by these invasive pests and what you can do about them.

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