Monday, June 29, 2009

Gypsy Moths at Highbanks Metro Park

Spring in late June???

A unsolicited, rather interesting comment appeared on my blog several weeks ago, completely unrelated to the post subject on Carex.

"Just thought you might know about Highbanks Metro Park. I was walking there today and noticed that a few acres near the top paths across from the nature center seem to have lost all of their leaves. Have you seen this and do you know what is going on there? All the trees are bald in that section of the trail."

My reply: "Maybe Gypsy Moths?"

Well, surely, an outbreak of the non-native gypsy moths, have defoliated at least ten, if not closer to forty, acres of oak dominated forest southwest of the nature center.
On Saturday, June 27, Megan, Weston and I went to hike at Highbanks, and I wasn't quite ready for what we experienced. Megan perhaps described it best, as "a fairy land". We were walking through dark, shaded forest, slowly coming upon the defoliated tree area. We were greeted with not only bright sun and mostly naked trees, but also thousands of fluttering male gypsy moths. They weren't shy either, and had no problem landing on me as I photographed them.

A male gypsy moth

Female gypsy moths, flightless, with eggs

The ultimately gross pupae cases of the moths. Notice the silk- they were originally imported to Massachusetts for their silk producing abilities, escaped, and the rest is history.

A few ash trees were spared- the maples and oaks were not.

The park now has excellent signage that tells the whole story. Regular runners and hikers at the park seem unfazed by the creepiness that is a gypsy moth infestation. Next year, the park will be using GypCheck to limit damage. GypCheck is actually made from dead gypsy moths, and is currently the most environmentally friendly control method available.



  1. It is a shame they are back or around eating everything in sight. I had a single gypsy moth land on my brick wall a couple of years ago. It was the only time I have seen one since I lived here (1962). None since.

    I thought your photography was very good as was the video.

    I also saw two Japanese beetles last week. One on my trousers got carried into the house. One on a sunflower leaf which I killed. I hope we don't have another infestation of them like we did several years ago. They ate everything in sight.

  2. Tom: Amazing photography, those buggers are hard on the forest. I will be posting our meeting this afternoon.

  3. Abe- The moths have generally moved from the NE to Southwest, so you're lucky to be at the western end of the spread. Thanks for the compliments. I've been seeing japanese beetles as well- Maybe we'll have a big year- I hope not.

    Thanks Tom- And thanks for the great post, you really did a great job telling people what we botanists do and look for.


  4. Wow. I knew they were around this year, but I hadn't seen any sites hit this hard. It reminded me that my dad, growing up in the northeast, remembers the gypsy moth invasion when he was young. He said everyone believed that would be the end of the oaks. Luckily, that was not the case.

  5. Kathleen- You should check this area out. Yes, it does look like certain doom to the Oaks. I can't imagine if the whole park looked like this.


  6. It's amazing what an effect such a little creature can have! I'm glad to see that they put up informative signs, and particularly that they noted that the trees were not dead. I think there's a lot of unnecessary fuss over defoliator outbreaks - as they note, the trees are rarely killed, they just look a little unsightly for a season or two.

    Birds will have a field day and a great breeding season as a result of the moth outbreak, bet you'll be seeing lots of baby birds around there this summer. These events are extremely beneficial for them. Evening Grosbeaks are known for that - they're a bit nomadic, feeding almost exclusively on spruce budworm during the breeding season, and for a while in the 70s and 80s their populations soared with the corresponding increases in budworm outbreaks. Since the budworm has been brought under control by artificial/human means in order to preserve forestry "crops", grosbeak numbers have plummeted, stabilizing at about half of what they were at their peak 30 years ago.