Download the 2013 Gypsy Moth Management Bulletin (PDF: 595 KB / 6 pages)
Treatments for gypsy moth in Minnesota can have two different goals. An eradication treatment, in the pre-infested area, is designed to completely eliminate a population of gypsy moths. An STS treatment, in the slow the spread area, is designed to reduce the gypsy moth population by two-thirds.
To reach these goals, several products are available to program managers to target gypsy moths. Most commonly, Btk and mating disruption are useful for most projects.
Btk, short for Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, is a common soil bacterium that has been isolated and mass produced for maximum effectiveness against gypsy moth. For exposure concerns about Btk, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's webpage.
Mating disruptants take advantage of the natural pheromone attractant of the female gypsy moth. Flooding the treatment area with the pheromone confuses the male gypsy moth's search for a mate and, if mating success is limited, fewer eggs are laid and fewer caterpillars are expected to hatch the following year.
The MDA has successfully treated over 554,800 acres since 1980.
The MDA's annual trapping program is the first step in determining where a treatment may take place. Our small cardboard traps are baited with a scent that lures in the male gypsy moths, where they become trapped in the sticky coating on the trap's interior. If multiple catches in a single trap are found, more traps in and near that location are set the following year. This helps to outline a possible infestation.
Once trapping survey data are analyzed, an egg mass survey is conducted in area with high numbers of male moths. If a gypsy moth egg mass is found, this confirms that a producing population exists. Finding even one egg mass often leads to proposing the site for treatment, since there are undoubtedly more egg masses – gypsy moths hide their egg masses very well. Each egg mass contains 500-1,000 eggs.
The next step is to examine egg mass survey results, past history, and survey data from the current year. Habitat suitability for gypsy moth is also taken into consideration. Urban environments with an abundance of oak and other trees, relatively few predators, and lots of sheltered spots for laying egg masses provide ideal gypsy moth habitat. Based on this data, recommended treatment sites are proposed.
At this point the local involvement process begins. Before treatments begin, local officials and the media are notified of our proposal, and public meeting are conducted in the treatment areas as part of an environmental assessment process. These public meetings not only allow us to explain what is proposed and why, but allows citizens to have their comments included in the assessment. We emphasize that this is a proposal. The final treatment decision comes at the end of this process, when the environmental assessment is signed by representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, and other cooperating agencies.
U.S. Postal carrier routes are used to identify residents within the proposed treatment area, and the MDA attempts to notify everyone in the area by mail. Because treatments are weather dependent, exact spray dates are estimated. Exact dates and times will be announced as soon as possible through local media, the MDA's toll-free telephone line and on this website. Once treatments are approved based on caterpillar development, spray locations are determined on a daily basis, based on local weather conditions. Local media will be notified the day before a treatment takes place. People may call the toll-free line to find out the spray schedule. Local law enforcement, health departments, schools and hospitals will also be notified.
The Environmental Assessment for 2012 treatments can be found on the U.S. Forest Service website. This document was reviewed by officials at the US Forest Service and the Superior National Forest who have signed accompanying Decision Notices and Findings of No Significant Impact for this project.
Because of its ability to defoliate trees year after year, the gypsy moth is a significant environmental, economic and quality-of-life issue and, therefore, infestations and the treatments are taken very seriously. This insect pest is not native to North America and has no natural enemies to keep its population in check. Its native range is Europe, Asia, Siberia and northern Africa. Urban neighborhoods in the northeastern United States, much of the Atlantic Seaboard and Lower Michigan have been devastated by repeated defoliation by the gypsy moth.
If sites are left untreated in Minnesota, here is what residents can expect within 5 to 10 years: in May/June, caterpillar numbers in any single backyard will reach into the thousands or even millions through June. Oak trees and other host trees and shrubs will be bare by the beginning of summer. Trees may grow a second set of leaves if they are healthy, but they will be weakened. If the tree is already stressed, as many urban trees are, they may die. If trees are defoliated for a second year in a row, they could die, falling victim to other pests because of their weakened state.
As thousands of caterpillars feed, there is an audible sound of caterpillar droppings falling to the ground. Like any other excess nutrient, droppings get into runoff water and into the local watershed. Each caterpillar sheds its bristly skin four or five times as it grows, and the skins pile up. The bristles may become airborne and irritate human eyes, skin and respiratory systems. In fact, many people develop a rash if they come into contact with the bristles. It becomes extremely unpleasant to work or play outdoors; the caterpillars will also crawl on houses and may get inside.
Caterpillars pupate in July, offering some respite to humans. The adult moths emerge shortly afterwards, and thousands of male moths begin fluttering around during the day, searching for females to mate with (female gypsy moths don't fly). Females lay eggs, resulting in thousands of unsightly egg masses, visible and hidden, reachable and out of reach, waiting through the winter to start the cycle over. Eventually the moth population will crash, but will re-establish over several years and repeat the devastation.
Treatment at high infestation levels is more costly than the current low level of infestation and will likely be funded in part or completely at the local level – often by individual property owners. Homeowners may have the option of not having their property treated once gypsy moth becomes established, but they will be unable to prevent neighbors from participating in local spray programs or using far more toxic pesticides than a public program might use. There is also considerable cost in removing dead trees and a decline in property value because of the loss of mature trees.
These are the effects of individuals living in a gypsy moth-infested area, but what about the broader implications? When gypsy moth becomes generally established, counties go into quarantine status, meaning that no outdoor household articles may be moved to non-quarantines areas without proof they have been inspected and found free of gypsy moths. Individuals moving to new places, loggers transporting pulp wood, and nursery growers shipping their stock are all covered by the quarantine. Quarantines increase regulations, increasing costs to consumers. Minnesota has a responsibility to neighboring states to slow the spread of this insidious pest. Not treating does not mean that we are letting nature take its course; the gypsy moth is not a part of Minnesota's natural ecosystem, and as such it is a serious threat to our environment.
Spray aircraft normally arrive at urban sites at sunrise or shortly after. A 640-acre block (one square mile) will take about a half-hour to spray with a plane or two hours by helicopter. The aircraft flies over the treatment block, making sequential passes. It will be very low (about 50 feet above the treetops), and loud.
Depending on the product, treatments are conducted to target either very young caterpillars or adult moths. Btk is used against small caterpillars and is applied in May-June. Of course, an unusually cool or warm spring affects this timing. Treatments occur twice, about a week apart, to catch late-hatching caterpillars. Spraying normally takes place early in the day when low winds and high humidity allow the spray droplets to land where they will be the most effective, and also because fewer people are active outside. A site will typically be finished before children are walking to school or people are heading to work.
Treatments targeting adult moths will take place in July, just before the male moths emerge from their pupal cases. Aircraft will fly very low (about 50 feet above the treetops) and be loud. There will only be one application over each treatment area. Spray planes will start very early in the morning but are able to fly for most of the day if weather is favorable. People on the ground may or may not detect any product coming out of the airplane, but be assured that it is being distributed in a swath beneath the aircraft.
Arrest the Pest
Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), 625 Robert Street N, St. Paul, MN 55155-2538, firstname.lastname@example.org