This is the first time in a long time we’ve seen the Gypsy Moth in Westchester County. This blast from the past is considered one of North America’s most devastating forest pests by the U. S. Forest Service. Over the years the Gypsy Moth, or Lymantria dispar, has been on hiatus, but recently more and more have turned up in Westchester County.
Westchester Tree Life’s Jeff G. tells us about his experiences with this tree-munching pest: When I was a kid, old enough for adventure too young to drive, I’d go bike riding with friends to go down to the local stores or the McDonald’s in town ( Wappinger Falls, NY ). I can still vividly remember the summers when all the trees were bare of leaves and gypsy caterpillars were everywhere: on the houses , roads and sidewalks. You could not ride your bicycle without fenders or you’d get covered in caterpillar guts from riding over so many as you peddled down the street! And like I said the hillsides were bare and looked like winter in July; no leaves , no green. They [the Gypsy Moths] ate every leaf on the trees!
The Introduction of the Gypsy Moth
A species native to Europe and Asia, the Lymantria dispar, or Gypsy Moth, was accidentally introduced to Boston, Massachusetts during the 1870’s by E. Leopold Trouvelot. Trouvelot hoped to jump start the silk industry by further studying the Gypsy Moth.
It took ten years for the species to noticably flourish; in 1890 the U. S. government unsuccessfully tried to eradicate the species from North America. This species thrives on the foliage of many plants in North America, though its most frequented hosts are oaks and aspen trees.
An Invasive Pest
North America is known to have explosive Gypsy Moth outbreaks. Trees may become completely defoliated if a particular Gypsy Moth outbreak becomes too intense.
Predators to the Gypsy Moth
It has been suggested that the primary predator of the Gypsy Moth are small mammals. Though birds in Westchester, New York and other parts of North America may feed on the insect, it does not substantially affect the population.
An Infestation Solution
Currently, the USDA Forest Service, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the USDA Cooperative State Research Service, the USDA Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service, and numerous state and private Universities have invested time and funding to research this invasive species. To control the population and maintain a balanced eco-structure, areas of North America are aerially sprayed with pesticides to suppress the species.
Identifying the Gypsy Moth
Need some help identifying Gypsy Moth caterpillars from your native caterpillars? Watch this video: