It sounded like light rain falling on the trees surrounding Neal Shapiro’s home on Maura Lane in Glenville Wednesday afternoon – it wasn’t. The noise was the symphony of hundreds of spongy moth caterpillars munching on leaves on the trees and bushes nearby.
He’s dealing with an infestation of the tiny fuzzy blackish-brown critters.
“You work hard to provide a nice home for your family, never imagining your biggest adversary would be caterpillars,” he said.
The foliage on an oak tree in his front yard near the road has been drastically reduced, remnants of the leaves scattered across Shapiro’s lawn.
He stepped up to the birch tree just several feet from his front porch, pointing at the couple dozen caterpillars working their way along one of the branches. There had to be hundreds of them on the tree. The infestation is something Shapiro said he has never seen in his 11 years at his house.
It’s not just Shapiro who is having a problem with spongy months; dozens of properties in Glenville have been hit. He said most, if not all, of his neighbors on the back half of his dead-end neighborhood are dealing with the pests. The issue is so bad the town had a presentation by Scott Moxham, a state Department of Environmental Conservation forester, on the problem during its board meeting Wednesday evening.
He said infestation was not originally on his radar until the last couple weeks after receiving around two dozen calls. He said last year the western portion of the state got hit hard. However, determining where and how bad the infestation could get is difficult to determine.
“It’s prevalent every year but we don’t typically see an outbreak,” Moxham said. .
Nina LeMorta has hundreds gnawing away at the leaves on the oak tree in front of her home on Berry Lane as well.
“They’re going to strip the tree down,” she said.
She noticed them making their way over to her rose bush and began spraying them with a mix of water and Dawn dish soap, she said. But the spray is not a solution to her problem.
But the problem isn’t just the trees in Shapiro’s yard, the caterpillars are just about everywhere you look. Hundreds are crawling across his patio, drowning in his pool and eating his raspberry and blueberry plants. Some of the insects were even in the grass.
Moxham said the insects love oaks, birches, willows, raspberry bushes and blueberry bushes. They typically feed for six to eight weeks starting in the spring and ending sometime between May and June. After that they go into the pupa stage before becoming moths. However, the insect will continue to lay eggs, which can be seen in egg masses that hold around 1,000 eggs.
For homeowners looking to get rid of the insects it won’t be an easy task.
“It’s a tough pest to deal with,” he said. “It’s kind of enemy free overall.”
People can try to remove them one by one but it’s a timely task and most times people can’t get to all areas of the tree. If people decide to remove them they should wear gloves because the fur can cause some people to have an allergic reaction. The pests can be placed in soapy water for a few hours to kill them.
People can also try creating a burlap flap for the caterpillars to go into, but that works best for smaller infestations, Moxham said.
He said it may not fully get rid of them, but rather mitigate the problem.
Aerial sprays can be done with insecticides as well.
But overall, Moxham said homeowners will have to get used to the moths because they are expected to stick around.
Get more information on spongy moths at https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/83118.html
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