In Mid July, I received an email from a friend at the Ohio DNR Division of Forestry. She had gotten a call from a local resident who is sensitive to such matters regarding an infestation of gypsy moths on their property. She and I met at the site, reviewed the situation and found that there was a major outbreak in the oaks (their favorite candy) in the vicinity of Crestwood and Woodside.
These critters are voracious eaters in the caterpillar stage and can defoliate one of our area’s mighty oaks in a matter of days. Once trees lose their leaves they have no way of changing the nutrients they get from the soil into the sugars they need to sustain growth. After two seasons of this heavy defoliation, the tree doesn’t have enough energy to regenerate leaves and has a high probability of fatality.
In the heavily forested area of Swanton, roughly from Main Street to Hallett Avenue and Church Street to the Turnpike, this is a major issue. Each tree of mature size roughly has a value approaching $1,000 annually in cost savings in lower utility costs, storm water retention and air quality. That and the cost of removing these mature trees if they should succumb can be about $2,000 each. The financial impact to a typical home owner in that area is more than significant, and we have not even considered the loss of property value.
Gypsy moths are a non-native species that came to us from Massachusetts in about 1869 when some enterprising individual thought he could cross breed them with other moths and create a silk worm business. As has happened many times before and since, when men mess with Mother Nature without fully considering all the ramifications, (like Kudzu and Asian carp) the buggers got loose and started devouring the forests moving steadily west. Like our other famous foreign invader, the emerald ash borer, the moving of firewood has helped exacerbate the spread of this pest also.
Identifying if your trees have an infestation takes some observation – hairy caterpillars crawling up the trunks of your trees in the morning or hanging from silk strands waiting to be blown by the wind to your neighbor’s trees. Don’t confuse these with web worm or tent caterpillars who, though ugly, don’t do any permanent damage. Does it look like someone has sprinkled pepper on your drive? Are there small brown patch like egg cases, a little bigger than a postage stamp on the underside of the larger branches? These are the most obvious indicators. Early in the caterpillar stage, they feed in the day and crawl back down the tree at night. Once they get bigger, they will feed all night, and in fact, on a quiet evening, you can hear them munching away.
Their life cycle (see illustrations) starts with the moths laying eggs in the late summer and early fall. Eggs winter over with caterpillars hatching in mid April. They feed until late June when they pupate and turn into moths. This schedule is important to know as it is essential to a home owner’s plan of attack.
Help is available from the State of Ohio as they have an organized aerial spraying program that is highly successful, non-toxic to humans, their pets, birds and all beneficial insects. However, local residents must recognize if they have an infestation, go to the Ohio Department of Agriculture website (http://agri.ohio.gov/divs/plant/gypsy/gypsy-index.aspx) and download an application.
Fill it out and provide some simple information, get six of your neighbors to sign on and send it off ASAP in the spring. The state then will evaluate your situation and if the criteria is met, then they will place traps to identify the area and intensity of infestation then put your area on the list for spraying the following spring.
In the mean time owners can mount a population reduction effort by draping burlap over bailing twine tied around the trees at about eye level. The caterpillars will crawl up under the burlap and die. The dead bodies have to be swept into a garbage bag every day or so. (A small hand held vacuum might be a good tool). A band of duct tape smeared with a product called Tanglefoot can also be used but the material must be reapplied regularly and the “stuck-ees” cleaned off as the next wave of “the collective” will just crawl over the bodies of their dead brethren. These procedures need to go on from mid-April to mid-June. At best, this is a delaying action to reduce the population so the trees and thrive and resist a partial infestation. It is not complete annihilation.
Though the Tree Commission can act as a local contact and provide property owners with educational resources, their primary mission is that of an advisory organization managing the Village’s urban forest on public lands. They have no jurisdiction on private property nor budget to mount a Village wide spraying program. They however can provide direction and help with contact information at the Department of Agriculture and the DNR Division of Forestry.
Please see the following contact information for more detailed description, lots of pictures and further information and direction:
Lucas County OSU Extension Service – 419-578-6783. Amy Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Department of Agriculture Gypsy Moth Hotline, 800-282-1955, option 3, then option 7. call M-F 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Email – Plantpest@agri.ohio.gov.