Gush. Crackle. Stomp.
Those are sounds that people might hear if they visited the home of Laurie Stockton and Tom Edwards.
They are the sounds of gypsy moths, caterpillars, and pupae being stepped on and squashed. There are thousands of moths on their property, and they are killing them as quickly as they can – which is not fast enough so far.
The couple moved to a home on Pilkington Sideroad 12 two years ago from downtown Guelph, but they never imagined that they might see a home invasion the likes of which are seldom seen in a city.
Gypsy moths have invaded their 50 acre property, and are busy stripping trees, bushes, and flowers from the heavily wooded lands.
Stockton said last year the land had some caterpillars, and they started killing them. She said they thought they might be tent caterpillars, but it turned out, after a check on the internet, they are gypsy moths, again a pest brought to North American by someone with good intentions.
They were introduced into the United States in 1868 by a French scientist, Leopold Trouvelot, who lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The native silk spinning caterpillars were proving to be susceptible to disease. So he brought over gypsy moth eggs to try to make a caterpillar hybrid that could resist diseases.
When some of them escaped from his laboratory, they started to multiply. They are now one of the most notorious pests of hardwood trees in the Eastern United States.
The first outbreak there occurred in 1889.
Less than 100 years later, by 1987, the gypsy moth had established itself throughout the northeast USA, southern Quebec, and Ontario. It has also spread south into Virginia and West Virginia, and west into Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Small, isolated infestations have also occurred sporadically in Utah, Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia.
Since 1980, the Gypsy moth has defoliated over 1,000,000 acres of forest each year. In 1981, a record 12,900,000 acres were defoliated.
Now, they seem to be wanting to do the same to the property in Pilkington. The couple’s 50 acres includes 12 of farmland and 12 of wetland, with the rest mainly trees.
Stockton said she has contacted the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, and was passed along to the Ministry of Natural Resources. They sent her some information about the pest, from the University of West Virginia, where the moth is so bad the government has had to spray it.
OMAFRA also provided her with the information that in the United States, the main, and seemingly only way to control the moth, is spraying them in the early spring, from the air.
“They’re a huge problem in the United States,” she said. They spray them there all the time.”
But, she said, it is difficult to find local crop sprayers, and it is expensive. She can’t help but wonder if the moths have spread to other farms in the area, and if neighbours might be able to jointly hire a crop sprayer. But, she said, none of her neighbours has mentioned having to deal with them.
“They seem to like oak, birch, and willow,” she said, noting they had also eaten roses and attacked a newly planted apple tree.
The caterpillars literally covered some of her trees. She demonstrated how they will hid by pulling leaves together to go into a pupa stage.
Those pupa later become moths, and those moths lay eggs that will hatch the following year.
When trees are visibly defoliated, Gypsy moth larvae crawl up and down walls, across roads, over outdoor furniture, and even inside homes. During periods of feeding they leave behind a mixture of small pieces of leaves and frass, or excrement.
Gypsy moth populations usually remain at very low levels but occasionally populations increase to very high levels which can result in partial to total defoliation of host trees for one to three years.
That has happened to several trees on Stockton’s property. There are large willows there with very few full leaves, and next to no leaves on most branches. They have been stripped. And there are huge numbers of caterpillars crawling all over other trees.
She noted that Gypsy moth caterpillars can be detected because of their red dots on a brown and greenish body. The male moths are brown, and the females white with brown markings.
Unlike most moths, these moths are active during the day instead of at night.
* * *
Tips to stop Gypsy moths
The Advertiser contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources about them.
Terry Schwan, the District Forestry Manager of the Ministry of Natural Resources said there is little that can be done now to fight Gypsy moths, but people can get ready to act against them for next year.
Schwan said there have been infestations near Toronto, Hamilton, and Norfolk County, and closer to home, in Millbank. They have also been found in the London and Middlesex County areas. As well, there have been a few Gypsy moths show up in the Waterloo area, and still a few more in Guelph that he has seen.
He said there are a few ways to deal with infestations. One is to tie burlap around the trunk of trees. He said the caterpillars will crawl up and under the burlap, and, when it is removed, they can be sprayed and killed.
Another method is to obtain a glue-like substance and place it on the tree trunk. That will catch the caterpillars, and they will die.
Finally, he said, qualified people can spray individual trees, and landowners can destroy individual nests.
But, he noted, the opportunity for much of that is nearly over, as the pupae will soon be hatching, and the moths will be laying eggs. The time to deal with the new crop comes around the end of next May, when those methods can wipe them out.
In the case of the Pilkington land, he said most infestations last only three years. But, Schwan noted, if the same trees are stripped yearly over that period, they will die.
One of the most common sprays to use is Btk, short for Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki, which will kill Gypsy moths.
He noted that people should not bother to knock eggs and nests to the ground, because from there they can still hatch. The nests have to be destroyed.