The gypsy moth is a serious forest pest capable of causing severe damage to hardwood trees, especially oaks. This damage is inflicted as the gypsy moth larvae defoliate entire stands of trees. In cooperation with the USDA, Georgia deploys traps across the state every year to detect the presence of the moth. Although the threat is always present, there are no known infestations currently in Georgia.

History of Spread

Gypsy Moth Egg Masses
Gypsy Moth Egg Masses

Gypsy moths were brought into Massachusetts in the late 1800’s with the intent to farm the moths for the silk produced by the larvae. It wasn’t long before the moths escaped captivity and moved out into the surrounding woodlands. Gypsy moth is now considered naturalized in many northeastern states. While Georgia has had outbreaks in the past, these spots were eradicated by state and federal forestry officials. It is likely that these outbreaks were started by individuals moving cargo with egg masses attached to it from infested areas. The natural spread of gypsy moths occurs as newly hatched larvae spin long silk threads and ride on the breeze. There are no known infestation of gypsy moth in Georgia.

Identification & Life Cycle

Gypsy Moth Larvae
Gypsy Moth Larvae

The gypsy moth goes through four stages of development – egg, larvae, pupae and moth. In summer, a moth lays up to 1000 eggs in masses between the size of a dime and quarter. The eggs are covered in the buff colored hairs the female pulls from her abdomen (Figure 1). The female will lay eggs on most anything but usually does so in a protected area. In the south, egg hatch will begin in late March. Gypsy Moth larvae are very easy to distinguish when they are about half grown. The larvae have 5 pairs of blue dots and 6 pairs of red dots down their back (Figure 2). The larvae will enter the pupal stage in May. Adult moths will emerge 10-14 days later. The moth is not very distinguishable. The larger female is a brown buff color. The male is darker and smaller (Figure 3). Male moths fly off in search of females mates. The female European gypsy moth does not fly but the female Asian gypsy moth does.

Damage Caused

Male and Female Gypsy Moths
Male and Female Gypsy Moths

The larvae, or caterpillar, is the destructive stage of the gypsy moth. These larvae feed on several hundred different trees species, especially oaks. During epidemic population levels entire forests can be stripped of their leaves (or defoliated). Repeated, severe defoliation from gypsy moth larvae in combination with other environmental stressors include drought, temperature fluctuations, hurricanes/tornadoes and wildfires. The impact of gypsy moths is felt by timber growers, wildfire managers and homeowners alike.

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