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Gypsy Moth, A Major Pest

Gypsy is a term for certain cultural groups. They are nomadic people found in certain parts of Central Asia, South East Asia, Middle East and in parts of Britain, Germany, France, Belgium and US. Those who live in US, have their groups referred by a specific name like, Rom, Ludar, Romnichels, Black Dutch, Hungarian gypsies, etc. Each group had their own culture, language, history and tradition before they came to US. They have their own talents in music and art and each group maintains a social distance. They are highly respected and protected.

But the Gypsy moth, which bears their name, is a menacing insect.

The moth was brought to US in 1868, by Leopold Trouvelot, a French Scientist. He was a great lover of caterpillars. He brought silkworms too, with an intention to start silkworm industry. The industry never came up, but the Gypsy moth soon multiplied and became a major pest in North Eastern US and South East Canada.

The Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) female, lays hundreds of eggs in masses on tree trunks and branches in July and August. The eggs are protected with a cover of fine hairs, shed by the female while laying the eggs. The females are black and white and heavy bodied. They do not fly (Japanese species are fliers). Therefore, they cannot disperse eggs.

The eggs hatch into larvae, when most hard wood trees are ready to bud. The larvae feed on the leaves during day time. They crawl down the trunks at nights for rest. They hide under dry leaf litter, crevices of bark and underside of lower branches.

The larvae produce silk threads to which they cling and float in the air. When a wind blows they float and get dispersed to other trees and spread over large areas.

The larvae enter pupal stage by spinning a slender cocoon with silk strands and a fold of leaf. Pupation lasts for about two weeks.

Adult males emerge first from cocoons. They are brown in color with narrow abdomen. They fly around during day time (other moths are active during nights) and are attracted by females, which have just emerged from cocoons and ready for mating. After mating the female begins to lay the eggs on tree branches close to where the female had pupated.

Gypsy moth larvae eat away the leaves of hardwood trees and cause defoliation. This results in weakening the tree trunk. Growth and quality of wood are affected. In 1981, 12,900,000 acres of hard wood tree area was defoliated by the Gypsy moth. It was a major outbreak that affected the forest and shade trees in US.

Gypsy moth is a pest on nearly 300 species of tress and shrubs. Massive control measures are in place to curb the menace.