Capital Region

Gypsy Moth caterpillars done eating trees for now

With her horses Misty Field of Justice, front, and Serephim, Chris Wildponies Cameron lights a fire inside a prayer circle ahead of using the ancient Native American practice of smudging to eliminate the Gypsy Moths on her Glenville property on Wednesday.

With her horses Misty Field of Justice, front, and Serephim, Chris Wildponies Cameron lights a fire inside a prayer circle ahead of using the ancient Native American practice of smudging to eliminate the Gypsy Moths on her Glenville property on Wednesday.

Now that Gypsy Moth caterpillars have entered into the cocoon phase, the trees they feasted on are fighting to regrow their leaves. 

The European Gypsy Moths, which were first introduced in the U.S. in the 1800s, have caused quite a problem this year in Glenville and other outlying areas.

“What we’re seeing this year is pretty uncharacteristic,” said Rob Cole, a state Department of Environmental Conservation forester, during a zoom meeting mid-June on the issue. 

Outbreaks typically occur every 10 to 15 years and can last two to three years before a natural predator — a virus or fungus — sweeps through killing off a lot of the population. 

Cole said this latest outbreak began last year in the Finger Lakes. It’s since expanded to the Eastern Adirondacks in Saratoga and Warren counties up to Clinton County. It’s also hitting the Southern Adirondacks heading out toward Oneida Lake. 

Cole said the Adirondacks are being hit hard. 

Glenville resident Neal Shapiro had seen firsthand the destruction the caterpillars could cause as they gobbled down the leaves on the trees surrounding his Maura Lane home. They even ate the leaves on his raspberry and blueberry plants. 

“As they get bigger, they eat more,” Cole said.  

He said they love oak trees but will also go after aspen, willow and apple trees. If they eat the leaves up on those trees, they start turning to blue spruce, white pine and hemlock trees. 

“We are seeing some significant damage of those alternate hosts,” Cole said. 

At Lake George, trails weren’t as shady and cool because of the critters, said Monica Dore, a conservation project manager with the Lake George Conservancy. 

“The forests up here don’t look so great,” she said, and many people walking the trails have noticed the caterpillars either by hearing the rain-like noise they make while feasting or just seeing them everywhere.

However, even with the presence of the caterpillars and less shade on the trails, it hasn’t stopped people from getting out for walks and hikes, Dore said. 

The conservationist also said that she made it a point to try and water trees in the preservation and parks that were heavily damaged by the caterpillars during the recent hot weather to ensure that they would live. 

With snack time pretty much over, Cole said leaves should begin to regrow on trees like the oaks. The big concern is hemlock and evergreen trees that may have been significantly defoliated. 

Shapiro said he’s started noticing his trees getting some life back to them again. 

“You can see them starting to push leaves out,” Shapiro said. “That’s at least a good sign the trees aren’t dead.”

Now, residents must prepare for next year’s cycle. 

Shapiro said he hasn’t really thought about how to attack the issue next year. Controlling the infestation isn’t easy either. 

The DEC website notes steps people can take to try and mitigate the caterpillars next year on smaller groups of trees. However, the website states it is harder to control the population in denser populations of trees like forests. 

Those actions include some insecticide options, scraping and squashing them if it’s a lower population or scraping egg masses into detergent. In late April, people can place a sticky barrier around the trunk of the tree to catch the caterpillars when they hatch out of the eggs to prevent them from crawling. In mid-June, people can create a burlap trap. 

Glenville resident Chris Wildponies Cameron said smudging, an ancient Native American practice of burning dried plants in a spiritual ceremony, has worked for her. Cameron said she usually smudges at least once a day. A couple of months ago she realized the process was having an effect on the caterpillars. 

“It sort of like puts them to sleep and the caterpillars fall to the ground,” she said.

Then the wild turkeys on her property would eat them. 

She said if people don’t have wild turkeys they can just toss down some bird feed in their grass and the crows and blue jays will eat the caterpillars. 

“They eat anything,” she said. 

Cole said the DEC does not have an eradication program and the caterpillars will go away on their own naturally due to a virus or fungus. 

“We are hopeful the Gypsy Moths’ natural predators will catch up to it,” Dore said.

For more information about Gypsy Moths, visit the Department of Environmental Conservation website at https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/83118.html.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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