Friday, March 18, 2022

Keeping up with invasives: The gypsy moth gets a new name

gypsy moths

March is filled with days that feel like spring, even if they don’t feel like spring. The angle of the light, the birds and buds, and the blue, silviculture IV’s running from maple to maple all suggest a mood that the temperatures do not.

As we hardy, resilient outdoor types watch the calendar shift from complaining-about-ice season to complaining-about-mud season, there are bound to be some cold, sopping wet days where we just look out the window and think — no.

But there were other things to do this week, thanks to the Adirondack Garden Club, which was hosting Becca Bernacki of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, who was speaking on a quinella of insects that have the potential to do great harm in the forest, and how we can do our part to stop them.

Two invasives have been in the news of late, one being the round goby, a bottom feeding fish that has the potential to devastate that Atlantic salmon fishery that the state and its partners have worked so hard to establish. A solution, for now, is as simple as keeping a lock shut on the Champlain Canal, but there is no guarantee the state will do so. The matter is currently before the New York Canal Corporation.

The second invasive is the gypsy moth, which a few weeks ago officially became the spongy moth.

Last year the eastern Adirondacks was dealt quite a body blow by the spongy moth caterpillars, where they appeared in such numbers that the sound of them eating and defecating was audible in some places, providing one of nature’s creepier soundtracks. Bernacki said the caterpillars surge every 10 to 15 years or so, but healthy trees can generally survive a couple years of defoliation.

Unlike most invasives, we know the guy who introduced spongy moths to the U.S.: Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a French artist and scientist who, finding Napoleon III not to his tastes, fled to Medford, Mass., in 1851. In the 1860s he introduced the spongy moth to the States, which he apparently felt could be crossed with a silkworm in the name of hybrid vigor.

As ideas go, this was the New Coke of entomology. In no time at all, Trouvelot washed his hands of the whole project and took up astronomy, presumably doing less damage to other planets than he did to this one, considering that the moth does an average $868 million worth of annual damage to America’s hardwood forests.

Other invasives are on the march as well, and APIPP encourages outdoors people to learn to recognize and report infestations by visiting its website for more information. It’s another helpful skill for hikers to add to their pack of knowledge.

The moths formally known as gypsy moths are now called spongy moths. Melissa Hart photo

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

3 Responses

  1. Gene Porter says:

    ” A solution, for now, is as simple as keeping a lock shut on the Champlain Canal,”

    That is a foolish and condescending position for a supposedly scientifically sensitive journal to be taking. The Champlain Canal has been a commercial and recreational lifeline along “The Great Warpath” for two. centuries. Hundreds – perhaps thousands of jobs are at risk were the Canal to be closed to transiting commercial and recreational craft., without a clear well researched basis in science. Indeed, many believe that the round goby will find its way to Champlain in a similar way it found it entered the (other) Great Lakes;, but in this case not transoceanic ballast water, but the bilges and bait buckets of trailered fishing boats.

    Please allow the science promised by the DEC and CRC to proceed before such a draconian action is championed.

  2. Boreas says:

    I just got out my horticultural oil today and started spraying egg masses. Then I came in and read this. I meant to do it in the Fall, but it didn’t last long enough. I don’t know if it will help, but it shouldn’t hurt.

  3. Paula says:

    Is it projected that we will get
    Another year of the spongy moth in 2022?

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