Gypsy moth leading to extensive defoliation, Sussex County residents encouraged to destroy egg masses
The gypsy moth feasts on hardwood trees like oaks, and their activity this year has been unusually high.
Also known as the spongy moth, the gypsy moth has led to the defoliation of 825 acres of trees in the Cypress Swamp, Gumboro, and the Nanticoke Wildlife Area, up from just 12 acres last year.
One natural enemy of the gypsy moth is a type of fungus that nearly wiped out the gypsy moth in the 1990’s, but Delaware Forest Service Forest Health Specialist Bill Seybold says the scales have tipped, and those fungus spores are still a few years away from catching up to the moth population.
“It will be another factor that will add another stress if the trees get totally defoliated," Seybold said. "There’s different levels of defoliation, sometimes they get 20-30% defoliation on a given tree. Some trees are in the idle of a heavy outbreak area and they get 100% defoliated. If they get that for a couple of years in a row its a little more serious of an issue for the trees health.”
Too much defoliation can lead to tree death. Photosynthesis is performed through the leaves, and if too much ground-cover is eliminated, it can lead to overgrowth of invasive species on the forest floors.
Seybold says moths are in their larvae stage now and encourages Sussex County residents to look for them and destroy them wherever they can. The masses are 1-2 inches long, and yellowish-brown with a felt-like cover over the eggs.
“The egg masses are out there and people can begin to do something about it and recognize, if it's in their backyard they can recognize these egg masses pretty easily," Seybold said. "They would be laid all over the trunks of the trees or up in the branches of the trees or even on the side of their houses or on some camping equipment or chairs that have been sitting outside during the time of the egg laying.”
More information including photos can be found on agriculture.delaware.gov and going to the forest service page.