Mature spongy moth caterpillar on a leaf. Photo: Bill McNee, Wisconsin DNR
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forest Health staff are cautioning Wisconsin residents that the next two months could bring the worst spongy moth outbreak in more than a decade.
The caterpillars of this invasive insect prefer to feed on oak, birch, crabapple, aspen and willow leaves, but will also feed on many other tree and shrub species.
Southern Wisconsin and parts of the north are already in a high-population outbreak that is predicted to continue and spread. Populations have remained high due to a low incidence of caterpillar-killing diseases last summer. In addition, weather conditions in 2023 are favorable for the caterpillars and unfavorable for Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus that kills spongy moth caterpillars.
Property owners are encouraged to examine their trees and take action. Specifically:
Three spongy moth egg masses on a branch in Walworth County. Photo Credit: Bill McNee, Wisconsin DNR
Now that spongy moth* (formerly known as gypsy moth) egg laying is complete for 2022, it’s a good time to look for and dispose of egg masses produced by adult moths over the past two months.
Spongy moth egg masses are tan-colored lumps about the size of a nickel or quarter, and are found on trees, buildings and other outdoor objects. They may also be found in protected places such as firewood piles and birdhouses. Newly produced egg masses will feel firm and appear darker in color than older egg masses, which appear faded, feel spongy and do not contain viable eggs. The current-year egg masses will not hatch until next spring.
In 2022, Wisconsin’s spongy moth population grew for a third consecutive summer due to favorable weather conditions and limited caterpillar mortality from diseases. The outbreak was most dramatic in opposite ends of the state. In southern and southeast Wisconsin, several thousand oak-dominated acres were heavily defoliated and very large numbers of property owner reports were received by DNR staff. In Bayfield County, about 80,000 acres of rural defoliation was reported from aspen-dominated forests. Smaller patches of defoliation were also reported from several other counties.Continue reading “Look For Spongy Moth Egg Masses – Larger Outbreak Possible in 2023” →
Scattered damage to new red pine shoots has been observed across many counties this summer. With the intermittent rains during the summer, the first thought was that Diplodia shoot blight, a fungal disease, was causing the damage. Upon a closer look, some of the shoot mortality is caused by the red pine shoot moth. From a casual glance, these two problems will look the same, so you really need to take a closer look.
If Diplodia causes the shoot mortality, the shoot usually forms a shepherd’s crook. And, in time, you will find the fungal fruiting bodies on the needles, especially if you look under the needle sheath (covering) at the base of the needles.
Shepherd’s crook caused by Diplodia shoot blight. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Bush, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org
White pine trees in many counties in northeast and northcentral Wisconsin have developed rusty-colored wilting needles on outer branch tips scattered throughout the tree’s crown. These dead branch tips are associated with the feeding by white pine bast scale. The scale is a tiny insect that inserts its straw-like mouthpart into the twig to suck sap from the outer layers of phloem called bast. Damage has been observed on trees over 20 feet tall this year.
Branch tips on this white pine indicate a problem with bast scale and the disease Caliciopsis. Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR
Oak wilt symptoms are active right now, but so are several other oak issues that may be mistaken for oak wilt symptoms. Issues including Tubakia leaf spot, Botryosphaeria canker, kermes scale damage and mite damage are all causing problems and may be mistaken for oak wilt.
Oak Wilt Leaf Symptoms
Trees in the red oak group (those with points on their leaves) that became infected with oak wilt in the spring will suddenly start to drop their leaves in July and August. Trees that were infected later in the high-risk period (April 15 – July 15 in northern Wisconsin) may start to drop their leaves later, in September or even into October.
Leaves dropping from oak wilt trees can be fully green, tan or a water-soaked, greenish color away from the petiole (leaf stem). There will often be an area that is still green near the petiole, even though the leaf has fallen to the ground. Wilting leaves typically start near the top of the tree and progresses downwards.
Recommended control measures depend on if you have just one tree actively wilting (and no others have died in past years) or if you are dealing with established pockets that have been present for more than a year. Contact your regional forest health specialist to discuss these control options if you think you have oak wilt.
Leaves dropping from trees dying from oak wilt often are brown or water-soaked on the outer portions of the leaf with green still found near the base of the leaf. Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR
By Andrea Diss Torrance, Invasive Insects Program Coordinator, email@example.com, 608-516-2223
Gypsy moth has moved slowly across Wisconsin in the last 30 years since gaining a foothold in the counties along Lake Michigan. This month, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) determined that the invasive pest has become established in Eau Claire and Richland counties and have extended the quarantined area to include them. This is the first time since 2015 that new counties have been added to the quarantine. Fifty-two of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are now quarantined for gypsy moth.
If you notice swollen needles or bare branches on balsam fir trees this spring, the culprit might be balsam gall midge. Adult balsam gall midges are tiny flies that lay their eggs in the developing new shoots shortly after budbreak in the spring.
Balsam fir needles with swellings caused by balsam gall midge will turn brown and drop from the tree prematurely.
Trees with late-breaking buds are less susceptible to gall midge attacks, as the buds are still tight when adult midges are laying eggs. The young larvae feed at the base of developing needles, causing needle tissue to grow around them (forming the needle gall).
The galls are green during the spring and summer but turn yellow in early fall, and infested needles drop prematurely. In the fall, the mature larvae drop to the ground, where they overwinter in the litter. By early the following spring, most of the damaged needles have fallen off, leaving bare spots along the branches where no needles are present.
Control options using insecticide applications are geared towards Christmas trees and are generally not necessary for forest trees.
By Don Kissinger, DNR Urban Forester, 715-348-5746 or Don.Kissinger@wisconsin.gov; Paul Cigan, DNR Forest Health Specialist, 715-416-4920 or Paul.Cigan@wisconsin.gov
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urban and forest health specialists recommend not pruning or cutting oaks from April through July to protect oak trees from the often fatal oak wilt disease.
The spring season often draws property owners outdoors to soak up rays of long-awaited sunlight, breathe in some fresh air and begin seasonal yard maintenance and cleanup projects. While spring is a time to dust off yard tools like rakes, shovels and weed clippers, when it comes to the health of oak trees, keeping those chainsaws and trimming tools a safe distance away will go a long way to ensure that your trees stay healthy for many more spring seasons to come.
Sap-feeding beetle on a diseased oak tree in Sawyer County.