I was walking along the Ipswich River in Ipswich, Massachusetts and found these moths. I was feeling quite excited to find a new bug. They seemed to be everywhere. When I got home, my excitement was diminished by learning that what we are looking at there are Gypsy Moths. The This bug is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa.
I have walked in the woods of Vermont and Massachusetts for nearly all of my life I’ve never seen these, but as a boy I knew of them and their destruction.
The Gypsy Moth was brought here to the United States by Professor E. Leopold Trouvelot in the 1860s. He was trying to identify and breed a silkworm species that would survive in North America.
Interestingly enough, Trouvelot was breeding Gypsy Moths in his back yard. He noted that some of the larva escaped and he knew that this would have dire consequences. He tried to alert a local entomologist, but no steps were taken to divert the disaster.
In 1890, the first outbreaks started. The effect of these outbreaks is that whole forests become defoliated by the caterpillars. The preferred target are oak trees, however other deciduous hardwoods are attacked and they will even attack pines if the hardwoods are not available.
Did I mention that this all started in Medford, Massachusetts? You can read more about this on the USDA Forest Service web site.
The male moth has plumose antennae to detect the sex pheromone emitted by the female.
After mating, the female lays eggs in a single mass covered with hairs from the abdomen. Most egg masses are located on tree trunks. The winter is spent in the egg stage. In the spring the eggs will hatch and the larva will climb up to the tops of the trees and suspend by a strand and wait for the wind to take them to a new location.