Western NY trees under attack by Gypsy Moth catepillars

ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)June 24, 2013

Our local WIVB tv station just did a story on this. Apparently this year's infestation is pretty bad.They don't have the video up on their website yet, but here is an article on it.

"There are options against gypsy moths"

With Allegany State Park officials spraying about 3,000 acres of forest to help control gypsy moth caterpillars, homeowners are starting to see defoliation from the ravenous insects in their own backyards.

What can homeowners do to save their ornamental trees and other trees in their yards? It depends.

Brian Bullard, director of operations at the Jamestown office of Forecon, a forestry consultant, said the company is nearly finished with the aerial spraying of thousands of acres of forest in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties with an organic biological BT agent called Foray 48b.

“This is the first year of a buildup of the gypsy moth caterpillars,” Bullard recently told the Olean Times Herald. “Preparations for spraying a vast majority of the forests started last fall with foresters counting egg masses.”

It’s different for residential properties, which are often in cities and other areas where aerial application to control gypsy moth caterpillars would be very difficult.

“It’s very difficult as a homeowner to slow them down once they are out and actively feeding,” Bullard said.

Back in the 1980s, when gypsy moth caterpillars last defoliated parts of Western New York from 1985 to 1987, “Landowners would wrap burlap or ‘sticky foot’ around their trees,” he said.

The caterpillars often go up and down the tree, preferring the cool ground at night.

“You catch some this way, but it’s really a Band-Aid fix to a larger problem,” Bullard said.

The tactic may work for individual trees or new plantings, he added.

But what about sprays?

Bullard said the organic product sprayed from planes is generally not available for homeowner use. There are over-the-counter products like Sevin, which is an insecticide that may be used.

“You have to be careful in the application,” Bullard said. “Read the label. It is labeled against use in some areas because honey bees can take it back to a hive and kill all the bees in the hive.”

He suggested asking knowledgeable staff at landscape and garden stores for advice, knowing there isn’t a lot one can do in their backyard to fight an infestation.

“We can expect to see sporadic areas of defoliation, from light defoliation to moderate and heavy defoliation,” Bullard said. “Under normal conditions, a forest can survive defoliation and re-leaf. However, a lot of forests were defoliated by forest tent caterpillars from 2007 to 2010. Then we’ve had drought conditions for the last couple of years.

“There is a lot of stress on individual forests.”

He said with moisture levels much closer to normal this year, the stressed trees will be healthier and better able to withstand the gypsy moth caterpillar.

In high-risk stands where the trees remain stressed, however, there is the potential for heavy defoliation from this hatch of gypsy moth caterpillars.

Rick Miller, Special to The Salamanca Press

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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

I hate those things! Gypsy moths killed some 75% of the oaks in parts of south-central PA if I remember right about a decade ago. Here in OH they seem spotty, a few areas in NE Ohio got hit in the mid-90s but most trees seemed to recover.

Haven't seen much around here in Columbus lately. It seems the infestations "move around" each year.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 11:27AM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Interesting. The gypsy moths around here have been decimated by the introduced fungus -- haven't seen a one in many yrs (around 2004 IIRC). However, they haven't been eliminated everywhere. The parasitic fungus works better in relatively moist conditions -- dry weather reduces its effectiveness on the caterpillars.

I recall a "patch" of utter defoliation for many miles around Lynchburg, VA back in the early 1990s. Whole mountainsides of the MD Blue-Ridge were defoliated in the 1980s.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 9:46AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Joe, I've seen parts of the PA turnpike where a bunch of large trees are nothing but dead snags. Since most appear to be oaks, my guess is they mostly died from gypsy moth infestation.

Introduced fungus? Didn't hear about that, beng.

Hopefully we can "introduce" a lethal fungus to the EAB too.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 1:55PM
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The GW Search engine did not send me to the numerous postings some of us have written in years past. Too bad as lots of interesting gypsy moth data is lost. This question has come from Western New York where I suspect residents are being updated. My suggestion would be to contact Cornell U. for the latest reports on the fungus Entomophage maimaiga which is being tested in the upper mid-west with success over the past few years. Further suggest that this contact be made through the Geneva Experiment Station in Geneva, NY (a division of Cornell) as I have found the staff there helpful directing me to the best sources.

As to the question of what the average homeowner can do to protect trees.....etc. Two thoughts:
1. The old method of using burlap and Tanglefoot (easily ordered on line if not available in your stores does help in the early stages of the infestation. You want the thick, gooey type, not the spray-on variety of Tanglefoot. I prefer to use several widths of blue painter's tape side by side rather than burlap. It is easy to apply and coat using a tongue depressor with Tanglefoot, easy to remove and replace when needed with no harm to tree bark.

2. The gypsy moth battle involves everyone in town. The first step is to have an expert appear on the local news and write articles teaching how to identify the tan/yellow egg cases that the female moth lays at the base of trees and underneath everything such as woodpiles, kids swing seats, porch overhangs, etc. usually within a height of 3-4 feet from the ground. Every homeowner should be watching for these egg cases and should receive instructions on how to remove and destroy them. Egg cases are scraped off with a putty knife into a container and then the spot where the case is removed is painted with a bit of winter strength dormant oil. This is an old time method and if a suburban community will turn out in late summer/fall seeking and destroying the egg cases, each in his own neighborhood, it really makes a difference. A good Scout project. A great family project. Well worth the effort to coordinate.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 3:21PM
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Good thoughts, nandina. I disagree though with one detail; At least in my neck of the woods, the egg masses can be found quite high up on a tree's trunk or branches. I'd say twenty five or thirty feet up is not uncommon. Of course, they can be found lower too, as in the three to four feet you cite.

When infestation is high, the undersides of branches of favored species like oaks can really harbor a lot of egg masses.

Another successful strategy is the oiling of these egg masses. This would be done any time from late summer of the year they were laid right up until the following spring. We use blue dye in our mix to aid in seeing what you've coated, and what you haven't.

The first year we did this, we thought it didn't work. As the weather warmed, we could actually see the eggs getting more swollen as the critters inside developed. What we didn't know then is that until this stage, the oxygen requirements of the developing larvae are so low that they don't succumb. But once they do begin to develop, they quickly run out of air (From the oil coating) and then die. You can really do a lot of good with this relatively efficient technique.

One word of advice though; Wear your oldest, most beat-up clothes for oiling egg masses. Inevitably, you will get the oil on yourself. It's just soybean oil and an emulsifier, so harmless enough, but it will ruin clothes.


    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 5:50PM
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buckeye15(No OH)

On the low egg masses you can reach, it is great fun to zap them with a propane torch. You can hear the eggs pop like popcorn. Please don't try this on young, thin barked trees.

Some people hang the burlap around the trunk without tanglefoot. When the caterpillars come down out of the canopy for the daylight hours they will hide under the burlap, and you can just squish them...very messy, and some people develop a skin reaction to the hairs of the caterpillar, but it is effective without chemicals or sticky tanglefoot.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 8:15PM
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A few additional thoughts to add to my other comments. I first met the gypsy moth on an island off the New England coast about 1947. It was a bright, sunny day with no breeze and the only sounds were the caterpillars chewing on scrub oak leaves plus other native trees. The sight and sound of that defoliated island is something I still remember. Since then I have dealt with the moth numerous times before moving south about 1979. Guess I am behind the times. Back then we seldom found egg cases higher than 4 feet from the ground which leads me to wonder, based on information above, if the egg laying females have adapted better survival techniques? Interesting thought.

It is very difficult to control unwanted insects as they are transported quickly around the country concealed on vehicles. RV's are a common source, often on the move and parked for periods of time. Lots of underneath hiding space in which to conceal the gypsy moth female laying egg masses while the RV travels 'down the road'.

Now, if only we could manipulate a few genes in the gypsy moth to turn it into a kudzu only eating machine........

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 1:46PM
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