Thursday, February 11, 2016

Love is in the air - literally

Karla Salp
Pest Program

Male & Female Gypsy Moths - Photo by Vladimir Petko, V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest SB RAS,
Male & Female Gypsy Moths
I wish I could take credit for the idea for this blog, but it was actually inspired by an article that arrived in my inbox, written by Todd Whitcombe. His article describes the chemistry of attraction in animals – and he used the gypsy moth as an example. Being that it is Valentine’s Day, I just couldn’t resist talking about l’amour for the not-so-beloved gypsy moths.

Reading the article taught me a few new things about gypsy moths and their mating practices. For example, did you know:
  • The female gypsy moth uses a compound called bombykol as its sex attractant
  • She releases this compound into the air when she is ready to mate
  • The male gypsy moth can detect as little as one molecule of bombykol in the air 
  • The male gypsy moth has been known to follow a female from as far as 5 miles away
    • In human terms, this would be the equivalent of walking 500 miles
Coupling gypsy moths - Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry ,
Coupling gypsy moths
The ability of the male gypsy moth to find the female gypsy moth to reproduce is nothing short of amazing. This heightened skill, however, is also one of the reasons why they are such a problem.

When you factor in that a female moth can lay up to 1,000 eggs, it is easy to see how just a couple of moths can rapidly grow to populations that will devastate forests and the environment.

The ability to effectively and rapidly reproduce is just one of the reasons why it is critical that Washington eradicate gypsy moths when they are detected. Visit our website to learn more about WSDA’s gypsy moth trapping and control efforts, and consider attending one of our upcoming open houses for more information!