Everything You Need To Know About Gypsy Moth Caterpillars

Updated for 2023

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When summer comes, most people worry about all sorts of different pest problems that the good sunny weather brings with it. For the most part, it is always about mosquitoes, Lone star ticks, and seed ticks among many other pests. These critters not only destroy crops as they feed on the stems and leaves, but they also pose a huge threat to humans and pets as many of them spread disease. But of all the well-known pests, one has recently emerged as a force with which we should reckon: Gypsy Moth Caterpillars.

These little-known buggers can lay waste to entire forests and crops as they munch their way through the leaves and plants. Up until last year, the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar was not such as big deal. Granted, they are still problematic when they infest your farm, but they had taken something of a backseat to other common pests. That is until some states saw the worst Gypsy Moth infestation in decades, farmers started paying attention. Here is everything you need to know about Gypsy Moth Caterpillars.

What Gypsy Moth Caterpillars Eat

Of course, the very first thing you would want to know is if these critters can affect you directly. The best way to do that is to find out what it is they eat. After all, if you are not growing what they eat, then there is a good chance that your paths will not cross.
Gypsy Moth Caterpillars are generally known as ‘exfoliator’ pests. This means that they strip trees and plant of their leaves. They typically prefer to feed on hardwood trees including but not limited to:

  • Apple
  • Oak
  • Some Poplars
  • Alder
  • Willow
  • Hawthorn

The adult Gypsy Moth will typically eat the leaves from the outer edge inwards and leave nothing but a skeleton of what was once a green, healthy leaf. The young caterpillars, on the other hand, will drill tiny holes in the middle of the leaves they attack. Whichever way you look at it, the host tree stands no chance against a full-blown Gypsy Moth Caterpillar infestation.

How Long Do Gypsy Moth Caterpillars Live?

At the larval stage, the Gypsy Moth larvae can eat away at tree leaves for about seven weeks. During this time, they can cause immense damage to the host tree. During the early months of summer, between June and early July, they enter the pupal or transitional stage. At this stage, they are dark brown in color and covered with hair.
This video gives you a good idea about the complete life cycle of a Gypsy Moth:

As mentioned earlier, these little critters can cause immense damage unless controlled.

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What Kind Of Damage Can Gypsy Moth Caterpillars Cause?

Last year, in Massachusetts a Gypsy Moth invasion left thousands of acres of trees without any foliage. This was lauded as the biggest outbreak of the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar since 1981.

The problem with these pests is that they take no prisoners. The damage was as far reaching as Rhode Island and even Connecticut. During this invasion, the Bay State suffered over 350,000 acres of deforestation. These critters came in record numbers and rained droppings on residents as they chomped away at the leaves of the host trees destroying thousands of acres of perfectly healthy trees.

Once they attach themselves to a new host tree, the little caterpillars start feeding on the newly opened spring foliage. The damage they cause gets worse as they get bigger and procreate. You will start noticing their effects when suddenly all the trees in your yard have no leaves smack in the middle of summer.

Although it is very likely that most host trees can survive a season of their leaves being picked clean by these moths, the concern is that with repeated defoliation, the effects of this loss of leaves may begin to kill off trees. Soon, you might find that the indigenous tree species popularly attacked by Gypsy Moth caterpillars will start disappearing. Considering the dire need for more tree planting, Gypsy Moths are a real issue worthy of some proper control and eradication methods.

How to Control Gypsy Moth Caterpillars

Gypsy Moth infestations are not things with which you should trifle. If you think you might have an infestation on your hands, you are advised to call a pest management professional. This is strictly for the purposes of identifying the pest. Because they have the ability to cause such serious damage in a very short period of time, it is prudent to take decisive measures to control and eradicate them.

It is, therefore, imperative that you educate yourself on the best methods to use when identifying and eradicating these pests:

Get to know the pest:

The very first step should be for you to familiarize yourself with the Gypsy Moth. You need to know what it looks like, where it is typically found, and its life cycle.

Get to know what the Gypsy Moth’s eggs look like:

Once you learn how these eggs look, you can regularly inspect trees in your yard to ensure that there is no infestation in the making right under your nose. A female Gypsy Moth will lay an egg mass on the underside of host plant leaves. If you ignore these egg masses, the Gypsy Moth damage can be severe.

Be vigilant when traveling to areas prone to Gypsy Moth infestations:

When traveling to areas where there have been reported cases of Gypsy Moth infestations such as Massachusetts, always inspect your luggage for the moths themselves, their eggs and larvae so that you avoid carrying and spreading them back to your hometown.

Avoid transporting firewood across long distances:

In the spirit of refraining from transporting and spreading these little critters over a long distance, you should avoid carrying firewood across states. When you go out on a camping trip, get firewood on location as opposed to bringing your own. Once done, do not take any firewood home with you.

Make use of tree bands and pest barriers:

If you have any trees that are particularly vulnerable to being attacked by Gypsy Moths (mostly hardwood trees) try using tree bands and other types of pest barriers on the tree trunks. This is a good way to keep the larvae from moving onto and off the tree. This measure is particularly effective in cases where there have been some sightings of Gypsy Moth eggs or larvae.

These are all measures that you can use to keep a full-blown Gypsy Moth infestation at bay. But what happens when they have already taken over and are feasting away at the leaves on your trees?

How to Get Rid Of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars

If the control methods mentioned above do not work or if you find that the infestation is quickly getting out of hand, then it is time to try and eradicate these little buggers. Ideally, you want to keep the female moth at bay. If not, here are some tips and tricks you can try:

Use Gypsy Moth pheromone traps:

You can easily capture the adult male Gypsy Moths using a Gypsy Moth trap that utilizes pheromones of the female moth. This not only keeps the captured pests away from your trees, but it also greatly limits the ability of the populations to reproduce thus effectively starving them of further generations.

Help spread the nucleopolyhedrosis virus:

Gypsy Moths are susceptible to the nucleopolyhedrosis As you inspect the infected trees, you will probably come across some caterpillars that are hanging in a sort of inverted V-shape. These are caterpillars that have contracted the virus and are well on their way towards their death. DO NOT remove these caterpillars. Leave them where they are so that they can pass that virus on to other caterpillars that crawl by. You could also take the infected caterpillars and put them in a high Gypsy Moth population area so that they can infect the other caterpillars in that region faster.

Use birds to prey on them:

Some birds typically eat Gypsy Moths. Birds such as the Bluejay, catbird, blackbird, crows and such find these insects delicious. Encourage these birds to visit your property to feed on these moths by not chasing them away when they come.

Use pesticides for Gypsy Moths:

There are a few pesticides that kill Gypsy Moths. Things like Monterey Garden Insect Spray typically kill these caterpillars when you spray it on the infected leaves.

You should, however, hire a pest management professional to deal with these kinds of serious infestations.

Why Hire A Pest Management Professional

As highlighted before, Gypsy Moths Caterpillars can cause total foliage devastation when they attack in large numbers. Once they get out of hand, they are not very easy to control. The best course of action is to call a pest management professional as soon as you suspect that you might have a Gypsy Moth Caterpillar issue. We know exactly what to use to kill and eradicate the different types of Gypsy Moths that affect trees.

Do not wait until there are no leaves left on your trees to do something about Gypsy Moth infestations.



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