(Published early May)
|Maple tree leaves, eaten by winter moth caterpillars|
Stand next to your blueberry bushes, your maple trees and
birch trees, your cherry and apple trees. Are flower buds turning brown? Are
nascent leaves been eaten to the point that they resemble lace? In early
morning hours are small green caterpillars dangling from silken threads? Are
you thinking - maybe I should spray? Too late. Winter moth eggs hatched in early
April. The tiny, tiny hatchlings climbed inside beginning-to-open leaf and
flower buds and nibbled them from the inside. By early June the full-sized
caterpillars will descend to the ground where they will transform into pupae, not to emerge as adults until late November and early December.
The reason for this topic now is to help you to identify
which of your trees are in duress. Some of them will have the reserves to
produce a replacement set of leaves, but unless you start some moth management going
forward your trees may join the standing dead in a few years.
|Tree wrapped in plastic wrap and sticky stuff, with male and female winter|
moths stuck, dead or dying. The females are climbing up from the ground.
The males are attracted to pheromones (chemical compounds) released
by the females. Males also attracted to light, so can be found around
door frames in the evening and early night if an outside light is on.
Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached Canada
in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental, the problem monumental. The "winter" part of the name
refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters
(birds, bats, spiders, wasps and other insects) are active during warmer
By not emerging until after November frosts, there perils are avoided.
plague appeared in eastern Massachusetts
around 1990 and to date has slowly spread to affect land within the I-495 arc
and down into Cape Cod
, but not farther west.
Winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have
strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through
shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial
wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their
adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the
females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air.
Males fly to them. Given a choice, males prefer larger females with smaller
|Male winter moth, about the|
size of a dime.
The non-flying nature of female moths means that individual
trees can be treated by putting sticky products such as Tree Tanglefoot around
tree trunks in mid-November. Instructions are to wrap the trunk in plastic wrap
or some other material and put the sticky stuff on that rather than directly on
the tree. This is kept on through mid-December.
|Female winter moth.|
Click on photos to enlarge.
Help is on the way. Canada
successfully introduced parasitic flies and wasps from Europe
both specific to preying on winter moths. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
has been experimenting with this approach. The net result is a downgrade from chronic traumatic damage to acceptable damage, with occasional bad years. However, until
these bio-controls are in widespread use, best advice is to sticky-band trees in
the fall as much less expensive than spraying dormant oil or insecticide in early spring.
Moths in Massachusetts
are not a new plague. Town records from decades back show annual expenditures to
combat browntail and gypsy moths. The former were introduced accidentally in Somerville, MA
in 1897, and spread quickly. Damage was not limited to plants. The browntail
|Winter moths, mating.|
is covered with thread-thin, poisonous, barbed spikes which in
sensitive individuals elicit a poison ivy like reaction. Worse, the spikes are
easily dislodged, often became windblown, and if inhaled, cause moderate to
serious respiratory distress. In time, natural predators adapted to browntail
moths, so there are only remnant populations along the Maine
coastline and parts of Cape Cod
Gypsy moths were deliberately brought to Medford, MA
in 1869 in an attempt to start silk production from cocoons, escaped, and
spread slowly. Despite millions of dollars spent, eradication efforts failed. Suppression
efforts have successfully used combinations of insect parasites, fungal and
bacterial species toxic to gypsy moth caterpillars and a species-specific deadly
Winter moths are not the only bad thing happening to your trees. Oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant species from Asia, climbs up trees and kills them by a combination of blocking sunlight and weight. Hemlocks are dying due to wooly adelgid infestation. Ash are succumbing to Emerald Ash Borer and diseases, fungal infection has killed off most of the flowering dogwoods, and the Asian longhorned beetle will eat almost any type of tree, but is partial to maple, elm and willow.
|Females resting on birch tree, waiting for evening to climb up and mate.|
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