New Bern, NC –
Moths have often been the subject of horror movies and urban legends. However, they pose no real threat to humans. If you're a tree it's a different story. This month, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will begin its annual survey of the highly destructive -- gypsy moth. In its caterpillar form, they can consume as much as one square foot of leaves per day. "In a very dense population, you're looking at hundreds of thousands of caterpillars at least per acre. That's a lot of square yards of leaves that are being eaten." Matt Andresen is the Gypsy Moth Program Manager with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "Caterpillars eat the leaves of over 300 different species of trees and shrubs so they're not really specific in their tastes. " Gypsy moth caterpillars are very small in size and are black and hairy. As they grow, they develop a yellow head capsule with noticeable red and blue dots along its back. It's difficult to differentiate between male and female until they become moths. "the male adult is about an inch and a half long. It's brown and grey and has wavy lines on it. It also has furry or fuzzy looking antenna. The female looks a little bit different, a little bit larger, an inch and three quarters or so. A lighter color, but it also has the same sort of irregular wavy lines on its wings." The female gypsy moth is flightless, which limits the natural spread of their populations. However, females will lay their eggs on just about anything, allowing the eggs to travel long distances into new locations. "RV's, outdoor household equipment, lawn chairs, dog houses, that kind of thing timber, nursery stock, and even firewood. And, a new population will pop up well in advance of that spreading front because of the artificial movement." With many people traveling from other states to go to the outer banks, Andresen says it's only a matter of time before the gypsy moth populations spread along the North Carolina coast. "it's originally from Europe and Asia that was brought over to America in the 1800's 1869. It's move south and west steadily ever since and now the frontline of the gypsy moth battle is more or less the state line between North Carolina and Virginia." In an effort to curtail their spread, 19 states have areas that are under quarantine because of gypsy moths. Currituck County, along with a portion of Dare County are on that list. "so when we place a plant pest quarantine, and in this case a gypsy moth quarantine in a certain area, we're doing that because we are trying to limit the artificial spread of the gypsy moth. " Andresen says the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is urging people to inspect items being moved from a quarantined area to a non-quarantined area - to ensure that they are free of gypsy moth life stages. Since 1982, Agriculture officials have been placing traps around the state to monitor gypsy moth populations. That process will happen again this year Andresen says the traps give officials an idea on where gypsy moths are located and their populations. "We are placing a systematic grid throughout the state, a trap about roughly every two miles throughout the state. So it's a very good grid and it allows us to pick up fairly rapidly on any new introductions." The traps being placed around the state this month are non-toxic to humans and safe for the environment. They are baited with female gypsy moth sex pheromone. "unfortunately for male gypsy moths everywhere, we have synthesized this particular substance and are able to place it in our traps. Males think there is a female inside the trap, are attracted to the trap, and get stuck in a sticky substance inside the trap." After moth flight is complete in mid-summer, the traps are collected and the gypsy moths are counted. Andresen says counting the population gives give agriculture officials a better idea on how to prevent gypsy moths from spreading to new areas. "If we find something of concern that would indicate to us that there is a possibility of a reproducing gypsy moth population at a given location, the following year we would place additional traps at that location, a higher density of traps to get more spatial information on where that population is and if it actually is a population that is reproducing. " While there have been over 100 intervention programs initiated to either eradicate or suppress gypsy moth populations in the state, Andresen says the spread of gypsy moths populations will likely get worse before it gets better. "I would guess that over the course of the next 10 to 15 years, we will continue to see gypsy moths move south into North Carolina from Virginia . This is especially true in the mountains, but this will be true all along the state line. We actually have been able to treat a lot of these populations in the Outer Banks, in Currituck and Dare counties and we've been able to push those populations back into Virginia. However, there are several small populations that are present in Currituck and Dare." You can see pictures of the gypsy moth in its various life stages, at our website, publicradioeast.org. I'm Jared Brumbaugh.