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Foresters warn of bad year for invasive moths

We are still months away from trees getting their leaves, but state foresters are already concerned about an invasive bug known for eating them all.

LYCOMING COUNTY, Pa. — What's commonly known as the Gypsy Moth is one of the most damaging bugs in Pennsylvania. During the caterpillar stage of the insect's life, it will devour almost all greenery in sight. They are known to defoliate trees yearly.

"A healthy tree, one year of defoliation is fine, but you better not have two years of defoliation because that tree is really going to suffer and probably die," said Donald Eggen, forest health manager for the DCNR.

Newswatch 16 met up with a forest health specialist at Tiadaghton State Forest, just south of Jersey Shore, to see how much of a threat these insects pose to the environment.

"It only takes about 250 egg masses per acre to get complete defoliation, and you were probably looking at about 10,000 egg masses per acre in that location."

The large egg masses will hatch caterpillars in late April or early May. Then, those caterpillars will begin to eat everything in their path and start defoliating trees. They will lay eggs in August and September, and then the cycle repeats itself.

Egg masses the size of a quarter contain about 250 to 500 eggs each. The Pennsylvania DCNR plans to spray insecticide across 210,000 acres of forest this year. That includes portions of Lycoming and Clinton Counties. These egg masses can also be found on trees in your yard.

"In your firewood pile, under rocks and stones, but when you start seeing egg masses on a tree, that means the population is increasing," Eggen said.

Outbreaks of the insect usually span one to three years in central Pennsylvania. The number of caterpillars that hatch each year is dependent on the spring weather.

"One warm, dry spring in a one-, two-, three-year period will cause the population to skyrocket, and that is exactly what happened last year."

Starting on March 2, insect experts will be giving this invasive bug a name change because what most people call the moth is considered an ethnic slur. The bug's new name will be the Spongy Moth.

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