June 23, 2011
LIMA — You've heard of the hungry caterpillar? Well, meet the gypsy moth.“At high populations, I've seen them strip a 70-foot oak tree in about two days,” said David Adkins, gypsy moth program manager for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “If the population numbers are high enough, they're ferocious feeders on about 300 different species of trees.”To prevent this tree pest from defoliating forests, Ohio participates in a national Slow the Spread program designed to manage gypsy moth populations. The moth, native to Europe and Asia, was introduced to the United States in 1869, according to the gypsy moth website of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. French artist and amateur entomologist E. Leopold Trouvelot brought the bugs to Massachusetts to develop a new strain of silkworm, but a few escaped, spreading throughout northeastern United States.“We're just trying to slow the spread of it,” Adkins said.One female's egg mass can produce anywhere from 500 to 1,000 larvae, which feed on tree leaves between molting periods. This prevents a tree from undergoing photosynthesis and producing energy, causing them to die off if it continually happens.The larvae stage lasts about six weeks, then caterpillars curl up in a cocoon and emerge in late June and early July as moths. Preventing the population from spreading consists of dropping tiny plastic chips full of the female moth's pheromone, a chemical that attracts males, from airplanes.“We just finished the treatments up there in the Allen County area just ahead of emergence of the moth,” Adkins said. “We want to get the pheromone in the air ahead of time, so as soon as they come out, the males have problems finding the females.”Scott Petersen, owner and pilot of Pontiac Flying LLC, based in Pontiac, Ill., dusted areas south of Lima on Wednesday morning. He said an adhesive makes the chips stick to leaves. Because females can't fly, males find the pheromone chips and are prevented from breeding.“We're not killing anything,” Petersen said. “We're just tricking bugs.”Petersen has contracts to spray between North Carolina and Wisconsin, where the bugs are spreading westward. Northeast Ohio is already classified as infested, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The Allen County area is considered a transition zone where isolated populations have developed, and 7,616 acres south of Lima, north of Cridersville, are being treated. The U.S. Forest Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and other environmental partners began the program in 1992.You can comment on this story at www.LimaOhio.com.