Prepare for the return of gypsy moths

By Bill McNee, DNR forest health specialist, Oshkosh, bill.mcnee@wisconsin.gov, 920-360-0942

Gypsy moth eggs should start hatching in a few weeks as temperatures continue to warm. Homeowners should survey their trees for egg masses and either treat or remove the eggs now to help protect trees from defoliation and reduce future caterpillar populations.

Property owners should start by looking for the egg masses. They can be found on nearly any outdoor surface, including tree trunks, undersides of branches, buildings, firewood piles and other outdoor objects. They are tan-colored lumps about the size of a nickel or quarter. Each egg mass can contain 500 to 1,000 eggs that will soon hatch into hungry caterpillars. While statewide gypsy moth numbers are currently low, isolated trees and locations may have high populations.

Gypsy moth larvae hatch from egg masses on outdoor bowl.

Gypsy moth larvae hatch from egg masses on outdoor bowl.

If egg masses are found, there are two options to help reduce pest numbers. Available at many garden centers and retail stores, horticultural oils that suffocate the eggs can be directly applied to the masses. These are most effective when temperatures are above 40 degrees and a return to freezing is not imminent.  Alternatively, egg masses within reach can be scraped into a can of soapy water and left to soak for a few days before being discarded in the trash.

Insecticide treatments may be appropriate for larger trees that have many egg masses. Some types of treatment are done before eggs hatch, and some are done while the caterpillars are small. Property owners looking to hire a business to treat large yard trees this spring should contact them soon. A list of certified arborists is available on the Wisconsin Arborist Association website. Additional businesses offering insecticide treatments may be found online or in a phone book. Questions about woodlot management should be directed to a professional forester.

Additional information about management options for homeowners, including sticky barrier bands and burlap collection bands, is available at the Wisconsin gypsy moth website.

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