Heavy gypsy moth defoliation expected to continue this year

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MIDDLEFIELD --   State environmental officials anticipate that, for a third consecutive year, there will be a heavy defoliation of hardwood trees as a result of a growing presence of gypsy moths.

A good indication of a coming gypsy moth infestation: silky, camel colored egg masses, clinging to your trees, with sometimes 1,000 eggs in each.

"So, if you're looking at your tree with several hundred egg masses on it and multiply that, that's a lot of caterpillars," said Dr. Kirby Stafford, of the the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), who is the State Entomologist.

South central and southeastern Connecticut have been hit particularly hard the last two years, with roughly 200,000 acres defoliated. The smaller caterpillars spread by spinning silk and ballooning, which is when "they will let themselves get picked up by the wind and that's what helps spread caterpillars around our neighborhood," said Chris Donnelly, the Urban Forestry Coordinator for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

This year's caterpillar numbers are expected to be higher "because the natural occurring biotic controls don't get activated, like the fungus," said Chris Martin, the Director of the Division of Forestry for DEEP.

The fungus he referred to is a naturally occurring agent in the soil that attacks the caterpillars, but needs moisture to be activated.

So, environmental officials are hoping for a wet spring, which would also lower the risk of brush fires.

"When you remove the upper canopy, leaf cover, and let in the direct sunlight and heat on to the forest floor, it dries up the leaves and twigs," said Martin.

"Three years in a row of defoliation can have a really adverse effect on even the strongest oak tree," said Bud Neal, a licensed arborist and owner of Woodbury based Neal Tree Service, LLC.

While there are no plans for state funded spraying, If your trees have been impacted, you can hire a certified arborist.

Information highlighting the history, life cycle, and impacts of gypsy moths on trees and forests, along with recommended management strategies, can be found on the CAES web page that includes The Gypsy Moth fact sheet and on DEEP’s web page.