Remember back when you were a kid and your parents were freaking out about the gypsy moths destroying all their trees? Ok, well the late 80’s early 90’s since most of you reading this probably aren’t the same age as me… Gypsy moths were really a big concern when I was young. My parents wrapped black tar like sticky bands around all our trees to keep the caterpillar from climbing up. My siblings and I were taught what the egg masses, caterpillars, and moths looked like so they could be killed if found. It was a whole thing. And then… I mostly forgot about them over the years. They just didn’t seem to be that big of a deal anymore.
Well, apparently they are making a comeback. If you Google “gypsy moth” you get all sorts of articles that pop up about outbreaks, invasions, and even frass rain, aka way too much caterpillar poop. Thankfully, I have not found any trees here that are raining frass, but unfortunately I have found more caterpillars than I’ve seen since I was a kid. Last year I found a few, which I promptly smashed, but didn’t find any trees on the property with notable damage. This year though, the caterpillars found our beautiful weeping cherry tree 😟 There is notable damage. I never saw the egg masses, but I’ve been smashing as many of the caterpillars as I can reach…
Gypsy Moths, Lymantria dispar, are originally from Europe. They were actually intentionally introduced to eastern North America around 1870 with the intent of using them to make silk. Unfortunately, not only did using the gypsy moth for the silk industry not work out, but a bunch of the specimens escaped. Gypsy moths, specifically their caterpillars, eat a huge variety of hardwood trees found in North America. And they have been steadily eating their way westward ever since their introduction (check out this cool time lapse distribution map). Although their population levels aren’t overwhelming every year, everywhere, population levels apparently do spike every handful of years (like this year).
If you see these strikingly marked caterpillars in your area – confirm with an entomologist – then smash them.
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The links below are Amazon.com affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. This helps pay for my blog and keeps it clean and ad free. I am very selective about what I recommend. The books below are all either on my shelf or ones I regularly borrow from the library…
The last book on the right is the older Peterson moth field guide. I still use it a lot, but all the images are of pinned and spread moths. The newer Peterson moth field guide (first book on the left) has images of moths in their natural poses. Both books are good- it just depends on what your needs are. Are you looking at museum specimens or live specimens?