BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (WWLP) – They’re back! Gypsy moth caterpillars have begun hatching in western Massachusetts. Entomologists at UMass Amherst observed Wednesday that gypsy moth egg masses began hatching in an area off Route 202 in Belchertown.
The caterpillars are known for eating the leaves off acres of trees. Their preference is for oak, but they will also eat the leaves of other deciduous trees, such as maple, willow, birch, and poplar. Occasionally, they will even eat the needles off evergreen trees, such as pines and hemlocks.
Last year was a particularly bad season, with the caterpillars causing massive defoliation in eastern Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties, as well as portions of Worcester County, southeastern Massachusetts, and Cape Cod. In total, the caterpillars stripped the leaves from some 350,000 acres of forest land statewide in 2016.
It is not clear at this point just how widespread the gypsy moth problem will be this year. UMass Entomologist Tawny Simisky says that if May and June are as dry this year as they were last year, the caterpillars could be a major problem.
A single egg mass could contain 500 to 1,000 gypsy moth eggs.