The unwelcome, exotic Gypsy Moth travels across a large range, and every few years, becomes a notorious pest in hardwood forests.
The unassuming brown Gypsy Moth came to North America from Europe through an amateur entomologist who moved here from France. A few of the adults he was studying escaped, and despite his pleas for help in containing them, little notice was given to the moths until they become a force to be reckoned with. The hungry caterpillars feed on a variety of hardwood tree leaves. Their appetite and mobility allow they to defoliate trees quickly. Older caterpillars feed day and night. Young caterpillars catch a breezy ride on a thread of their own silk to other trees if competition for leaves is too stiff. Still others are transported unwittingly by people who spend time in infested areas camping. Once trees lose too many leaves, they tap into their food reserves to grow a second batch in order to continue to make energy through the rest of the summer and fall. This weakens their reserves, and after years of such lost energy, they may die. Fortunately, a fungus that infects the moth helps to bring their numbers down to an insignificant level. It takes time for this fungus to make an impact though and years can pass before a real change can be seen in forests. Some areas see a return every few decades, especially in times of drought when fungi struggle to thrive. Beetles and birds are also natural predators for the Gypsy Moth and its larvae, so small populations are manageable. Removing caterpillars and banding tree trunks with sticky trap tape can help trees, too. In forests that have dense moth populations, professional arborists and forestry management have used aircraft to disperse insecticidal spray to curb deforestation.
Males and females are active in summer and die in winter. In autumn, females lay fertilized eggs in areas near their own upbringing. Eggs overwinter and larvae emerge in the spring. Caterpillars are hairy and brown with five blue dots and 6 red dots forming a line down its back (dorsal side). Look for them in hardwood forests with a mix of trees like pine, oak, maple and others. Check the tree canopy to see if leaves are skeletonized, missing or thinned for indications of caterpillar feeding.
Scientific Name: Lymantria dispar
Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 26mm to 38mm (1.01in to 1.48in)
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Butterfly and Moth Anatomy
Antennae: Butterflies and Moths have a pair of antennae on the head used as sensors.
Head: The head is home to the insect's eyes, antennae, and proboscis.
Thorax: Home to the three pairs of legs as well as vital internal organs.
Abdomen: Contains vital internal organs such as the heart(s) and reproduction facilities.
Forewing: The upper, forward wing pair used for flying.
Hindwing: The lower, rearward wing pair used for flying.
NOTE: Butterflies and Moths are part of the Lepidopteran order as they share many similarities.