New York Trees Left Bare After Gypsy Moth Caterpillars Wreck Havoc

An outbreak of gypsy moths along the East Coast is wreaking havoc on the trees, and experts expect it to last 2-3 years.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, gypsy moth caterpillar populations are notably high this year, particularly in New York.

Due to their increased numbers, there’s been substantial leaf damage caused to trees across the state and other parts of the country.

Photo: flickr/Washington State Department of Agriculture

DEC Forester Rob Cole spoke with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and explained that healthy trees are expected to survive and begin growing their leaves back once the caterpillars turn to moths in July, but the beautiful autumn colors of the area will likely be duller without much foilage.

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According to DEC, Gypsy moths were introduced to the US in 1869 from France when businessmen were hoping to breed them with silkworms. When that didn’t work out, a few of the moths escaped and began to breed in the wild.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

That was many years ago, and the worms are now a part of the natural ecosystem. While they’re always around, every 10-15 years, their numbers grow exponentially and it results in an outbreak or infestation of the caterpillars.

During outbreaks (like we’re seeing this year), the caterpillars eat the leaves of trees and can cause damage across thousands of acres.

Most healthy trees can withstand 2-3 years of an outbreak before they’re killed by the caterpillars, but even those that survive become more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Currently, the caterpillars live across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Cole warned that during an outbreak, it’s very possible to transport the caterpillars knowingly or not. The egg sacs could be on vehicles, outdoor equipment, or cut wood, like lumber.

Photo: Facebook/NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

It’s a good idea to visually inspect anything that could have egg sacs or caterpillars to avoid transporting them to other areas.

Outbreaks typically last 2-3 years before the populations naturally decline from disease, virus, or predators.

Hopefully this outbreak is a short one so we can get our healthy trees back!

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