Winter moth population seeing big increase

The widespread moths should be gone by the end of December

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re faced with dozens of moths were you get home at night, know that you’re not alone.

Eyewitness News spoke with an expert Tuesday who said there has been a bloom in the winter moth population this year.

Unfortunately, the moths are a nuisance and experts say there isn’t much that can be done about them now.

“They’re an invasive species,” said Heather Faubert, a research assistant at the University of Rhode Island. “We didn’t used to have them in Rhode Island. We started seeing them in the early 2000s.”

The moths are originally from Europe. While they are in their caterpillar stage, they are voracious eaters.

“There was a tenfold increase in the amount of defoliation that happened as a result of the winter moth caterpillar last spring,” Faubert said.

That’s about 27,000 acres defoliated this year alone.

As a rule of thumb, after a tree is defoliated three years in a row, it could die.

Recent mild temperatures have been keeping the moths active, too.

The males are the ones that fly – while the females instead climb into tree trunks to lay their eggs. According to Faubert, the females do not fly.

Experts say it is now too late to do anything about the moths. If you are thinking of putting bands on the trees, that needs to be done by mid-November.

Any action will now have to wait until the spring.

“If you’re going to put on a dormant oil, you’d want to do it in late March or early April,” Faubert said. An insecticide called BT can be used during those months to kill the winter moth larvae and caterpillars.

The widespread moths should be gone by the end of December.

In 2011, scientists released a parasitic fly which only went after the caterpillars, but Eyewitness News has learned it is going to take a while for the fly numbers to get to a point where they can take the population down.

Copyright 2015 WPRI

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