Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Egg hunts - WSDA style

Karla Salp
Pest Program 

Gypsy moth egg masses in CT
Not all egg hunts happen in the spring. In the Washington State Department of Agriculture Pest Program employees hit the road for a unique egg hunt with a higher cause – protecting Washington’s environment from the invasive gypsy moth.

In the shadow of Mount Rainier on a crisp and sunny fall day, about a dozen yellow WSDA vests could be seen wandering around a neighborhood near Graham. Such “egg hunts” occur in areas of interest to the pest program after summer gypsy moth trapping results.

The eggs they were looking for, however, are a lot harder to see than brightly colored eggs in the grass. Gypsy moth egg masses are cream, white, or orange colored. They are usually oblong and fuzzy. The egg masses can be laid on any outdoor surface, but the moths tend to prefer the base of trees.

Having seen so many egg masses on my trip back east this summer, I volunteer to help out. Here are some things I learned on the hunt: 

  1. Needle in the football fields – Looking for gypsy moth egg masses is much like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack – if that haystack was strewn over an area about the size of 15 football fields.
  2. Egg masses can be anywhere – Gypsy moths will lay their eggs on any surface. In the past, WSDA has found egg masses not only on trees, but also on tires and even on a cup.
  3. Trees are the easy part – We started looking in an almost park-like setting with trees and grass, which was easy enough. When we got to items outside of houses, it became overwhelming: carports, lawnmowers, stacks of wood or junk, garden decorations, fences, vehicles, birdhouses, bushes, tires – the possibilities are endless.
  4. Pushups are optional – I was super impressed by one of the trappers who, rather than get dirty by laying on the ground to look under a trailer, did a slow pushup to lower himself down, look under the trailer, and then push himself back up. The rest of us just got on the ground.
  5. Mirror, mirror – Small telescoping mirrors were a godsend for looking under small areas without having to do #4.
  6. Bragging Rights – When it comes down to it, it takes a lot of time and even more luck to find a gypsy moth egg mass on these hunts. Serious bragging rights can be had by finding an egg mass.

In the end we didn’t find any egg masses that day, but the hunt continues. WSDA staff will be searching again this month, weather permitting. Once the egg mass survey is complete, the program will decide if treatments will be recommended for any areas in 2017. Stay tuned for that announcement, expected later this year.