Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) is an invasive species that is severely weakening trees across North America. Unfortunately, parts of Middlesex Centre are experiencing an infestation of gypsy moth.
What happens during an infestation?
Gypsy moth outbreaks occur every 7 to 10 years. Gypsy moth caterpillars (“larvae”) will chew holes in leaves, and may partially or totally strip a host tree of its leaves.
During outbreak years, nearly all broadleaf (hardwood) trees may be completely defoliated. This can harm and even kill otherwise healthy trees. Caterpillars appear everywhere and their droppings ("frass") will fall from the trees.
This species is known to infest trees in woodland or suburban areas. They prefer to infest hardwood species, such as oak, birch, poplar, willow, maple and others.
What does a gypsy moth look like?
Photos courtesy of Ontario's Invading Species Awareness Program
Caterpillars are 5-6 centimetres long with five pairs of blue dots and six pairs of bright red dots along their back.
Female moths are white with dark markings and cannot fly. Male moths are brown and can fly. Females are larger than males with a 5 cm wing span, males only span 2.5 cm.
Egg masses are about 4 cm long, tan coloured, and can be found on tree trunks, furniture, buildings, etc. You may see spongy egg masses on the trunks and branches of infected trees beginning in late July.
Where are gypsy moths found in Middlesex Centre?
While they can be found anywhere in Middlesex Centre, there is a particularly heavy infestation in the Westbrook Park area in Kilworth.
What is Middlesex Centre doing about gypsy moths?
In 2020, we worked with a local arborist to treat the municipal portion of the tree lot at Westbrook Park in Kilworth. As this involved bringing in specialized equipment from out of the area, we arranged with the arborist to provide a flat rate per household for homeowners wishing to treat their individual properties.
Gypsy Moth Field Study, 2021
This year, Middlesex Centre has contracted Stantec Consulting to undertake a Gypsy Moth Field Survey starting in February.
The field survey will see research observers conduct a walkthrough of identified study areas. The observers will count all the gypsy moth egg masses and capture data on the size and location (type of tree) of the masses, as well as information on the health of the trees.
The study areas are Westbrook Park, the Jefferies Rd. Pump Station, a private woodlot in Komoka, and the area from the Ilderton Rail Trail to the Fire station.
Following the walkthrough, research plots in those areas most susceptible to gypsy moths will be examined in more detail.
After the research is concluded, Stantec will consider which gypsy moth management options are appropriate and prepare a cost-benefit analysis. Broadly speaking, the options to be considered include "do nothing," targeted treatment of affected trees in areas of infestation, and pre-emptive large-scale treatment.
The study is expected to be completed by early Spring. It will provide the background information required for staff to recommend a course of action for Council's consideration.
Update: The staff report and study are going to Council for their consideration on April 14, 2021. Please see the meeting agenda for details.
What can homeowners do to control gypsy moths?
Homeowners are encouraged to monitor their hardwood trees like oaks, maples, beech and walnut for the presence of gypsy moth caterpillars.
solutions and Treatments
Here are some general recommendations for dealing with gypsy moths on your property:
- Keep your trees in good health.
- Install sticky bands to monitor and control caterpillar populations and/or install pheromone traps in trees to lure and trap male moths to prevent them from mating with female moths. Consult your local nursery or hardware store for information on these bands/traps.
- Use burlap bands. As the weather warms in late May and June, caterpillars tend to feed at night, and climb down the tree to shelter from the heat during the day. Wrap burlap or light-coloured cloth around tree trunks to collect the caterpillars. Fold the burlap back over itself to create a cavity, and the caterpillars will collect in there. Once a day, scrap the caterpillars off the burlap into a bucket of soapy water, then re-apply the burlap. This will help reduce the number of caterpillars in your tree. This technique may also be used later in the summer to collect female moths (which are unable to fly and so will climb up the tree to lay their eggs.)
- Physically remove and destroy egg masses. This is one of the best ways to reduce the infestation - every egg mass removed will reduce the population by several thousand! Use a small paint scrapper or other gentle tool to remove the egg masses. Soak the egg masses in soapy water overnight to kill them, and then they can be bagged and sent to the landfill. Don’t drop them on the ground or put them in your composter as the caterpillars will still emerge. See the City of London’s video to see how to remove the egg masses. The best time to remove the masses is in the fall after the leaves have fallen. Try to avoid windy days if possible.
- Contact an arborist if you think a tree on your property is being heavily defoliated by gypsy moths. Insecticide treatments may be necessary.
- Contact the municipality if you think a tree on municipal property is being heavily defoliated by gypsy moth. Please include the street address in your message.
Information for this article was taken from the following websites:
- Ontario's Invading Species Awareness Program
- Province of Ontario
- City of Hamilton
- Davey Tree
- Ausable Bayfield Conservation
Additional information sources:
- Government of Canada
- Landscape Ontario
- County of Middlesex
- Upper Thames River Conservation Authority
If you have questions regarding the municipality's response to gypsy moths, please contact Scott Mairs.