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Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Gypsy Moth

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The unwelcome, exotic Gypsy Moth travels across a large range, and every few years, becomes a notorious pest in hardwood forests.

Updated: 01/04/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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 them 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 of Gypsy Moths 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 can be managed naturally. 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.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect antennae icon
Flying insect icon
Harmful insect icon
Rounded insect body icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Erebidae
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          Genus: Lymantria
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            Species: dispar

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Lymantria dispar
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 26mm to 38mm (1.02" to 1.49")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; black
Descriptors: harmful; flying; antennae; feathery; round

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 26mm (1.0in) and 38mm (1.5in)
Lo: 26mm
Md: 32mm
Hi: 38mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Gypsy Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Gypsy Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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