Everyone is talking about the war on caterpillars. This blog has posted on gypsy moth caterpillars since year one. Is there a war on Gypsy Moth Caterpillars? I think so.
States across the US are gearing up efforts to track gypsy moth infestations and eradicate them if possible. North Carolina is set to deploy 12000 gypsy moth traps across the state to get better information on the location of the pest. The traps use a pheromone bait to attract the male gypsy moths. A single trap can attract male gypsy moths from up to 1 mile away. 12000 traps will give good coverage of the state and help scientists and pest managers determine where to focus their efforts.
West Virginia plans to treat 40,000 acres with gypsy moth pheromone to eradicate local populations. As discussed in a previous post, pheromones are used as “birth control” for moths. The pheromones are emitted from controlled release dispensers that vastly outnumber the female moths. The male moths confuse the pheromone dispensers with female moths and spend their time fruitlessly trying to mate with the dispensers. The males fail to locate females and the eggs go unfertilized. No new gypsy moth caterpillars are produced and the local population goes extinct. Although contraception (whether for people or insects) is a controversial topic, the pheromones have very low impact on non-target populations. The pheromones are non-toxic. They don’t kill gypsy moth or non-target species. At concentrations used, only the gypsy moth, with its super-sensitive antennae can detect the pheromone. Humans cannot even smell the pheromone. This makes pheromone “birth control” the preferred means to control gypsy moth populations. Of course, some people object to any form of control and thus the controversy.
The States of Ohio and Washington are also planning eradication efforts. Washington has environmental impact hearings. However, the potential impact of the gypsy moth (an invasive species) on the environment is far greater than the impact of efforts to control gypsy moth. Defoliation of forests can harm species that use the forests as habitat.This year, warmer temperatures in Indiana and the Midwest have led to early leafing of trees and earlier than anticipated hatch of gypsy moth caterpillars. Warm weather has advanced the timing for many of the control measures. Although it isn’t exactly a “War Against Caterpillars” the large number of gypsy moth treatments are worthy of the allusion. It is good that our national political process is finally focused on solving real problems. We welcome the discussions of the “War on Caterpillars” and hope it leads to broader support for programs to address gypsy moth and other invasive species.