Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gypsy Moth Outbreak Tour

Karla Salp
Pest Program

Map of Gypsy Moth Tour through Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts
Gypsy moth tour route
At the end of July I flew back East to see first-hand the devastation that the gypsy moths had caused in the largest outbreak the area had seen since 1981 – damage so vast it could be seen from space. The tour gave me a good idea of the risk these invasive pests can pose to our own region. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing in more detail about the trip and what I learned. Here is an overview of where I went and the gypsy moth situations there.

Female gypsy moths and egg masses on oak tree

Connecticut was where I saw my first-ever live gypsy moths. After meeting with the nation’s oldest agriculture research station in New Haven, I continued on Interstate 95. Not far out of New Haven I began to notice defoliation, got off at the next exit and found female gypsy moths laying eggs on trees.

Rhode Island

My meeting with a forestry employee fell through, but that left more time for touring the state. I went up and down the state, which even weeks after the caterpillars were gone still showed massive defoliation mile after mile.

Cape Cod
Gypsy moths mating on tree limb
Gypsy moths mating on tree limb in Cape Cod

Gypsy moths in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, developed well behind Connecticut and Rhode Island owing to its cooler climate. Although the moth peak was the week before I arrived, there were still plenty male and female moths to see and a lot of mating happening. Many of their forests were barely beginning to releaf out after having been completely defoliated. In addition to the defoliation of the oak trees, many pine trees had also been munched on.

Partially eaten leaves and new leaves starting to leaf out
Partially eaten leaves and new leaves starting

The last stop on the trip still offered new things to discover. The Shawme-Cromwell State Forest had been nearly completely defoliated not just this year but last year as well. The oak trees showed signs of stress, such as a last-ditch effort at survival by sprouting leaves along the trunk. Many atypical plants were defoliated, such as rose and blueberry bushes. Most dramatic, and foreboding for Washington, were the evergreens. Several had been completely defoliated and stood dead in the forest, awaiting removal by the park service.

The trip allowed me a chance to capture a number of videos and photos of the gypsy moth and the damage it can cause. I’ll share more of that in future posts on this blog.