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Historical Society's 37th ANNUAL HARVEST FAIR September 24, 2017

Holliston’s Gypsy Moths & Our Green Infrastructure

by Mary Greendale
July 15, 2017

In the early 1980’s, I lost a battle to the gypsy moths that attacked our 150-year-old copper beech tree on Washington Street. I stomped on the hundreds upon hundreds of caterpillars that moved across my dirt driveway with military precision on their way to the tree. I sprayed Sevin on them daily (something I’d never use today) and ranted at the invaders – all to no avail.

So when I started seeing a lot of brown moths flitting in and around my yard in July, I panicked and called my friend Rolf Briggs at Tree Specialists in Holliston. His company is big into preserving and protecting trees in environmentally sustainable ways, so I rely on them to spray my property as appropriate. They treated my trees in spring for both gypsy and winter moths.

“So why am I seeing these moths, now, and what can I do?” I asked Rolf.

Rolf explained that etymologists had hoped that the spring rains would grow the fungus in the ground that is the only known threat to the gypsy moths. Arborists had hoped for 100% eradication of the gypsies, but tests indicate that the success rate is between 10% and 80% depending on where you are in the state.

“To date, Natick and Sherborn have been the farthest east that we have seen the moths, but just recently we found them in East Cambridge. They got there riding the winds that we had,” Rolf told me. I learned online that tiny caterpillars hang from little threads that can get blown easily to “new” food sources.

Briggs sounded discouraged. He explained that the moths love oaks and even white pines, “And we are seeing total stripping in certain areas.”

Fortunately for me, I don’t have many oaks around, but these caterpillars will eat anything when need be. I asked if we could do anything now and basically, the answer is no. We could scrape the cocoons off the trees in the winter and destroy the egg masses in gasoline or even a salt/vinegar combination, taking care not to leave the cocoons on the ground. The bugs just hatch there (very persistent). But Rolf says it will be of limited value.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens but given that a female can lay 400 eggs, I can only hope that the fungus rallies even more next year. I will once again spray my trees in hopes of protecting them.

Sadly the trees at Placentino/Miller have been all but destroyed. They suffered from lack of water last year. I urge the School Department and Board of Selectmen to work with other Town departments to develop a plan for dealing with these gypsy moth invaders (and other threats) to our “green infrastructure,” so as to protect the trees in public spaces and along roadways. We need the trees for oxygen, summer cooling and to protect waterways from run-off. They are not just decorations.

Afterword:

I have included two links: the first describes the life cycle of the moth and the second talks to town officials about the need to plan for “green infrastructure.” 

http://www.gypsymothalert.com/lifecycle.htmle

http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-cities-green-streets-water-runoff-transportation.html?utm_term=Greener%20City%20Streets%20Aren%27t%20Just%20About%20Traffic.%20They%27re%20About%20Rainwater%2C%20Too.&utm_campaign=As%20Demand%20for%20At-Home%20Care%20Grows%2C%20States%20Debate%20How%20to%20Pay%20for%20It&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email

 

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Comments (3)

What are you going to do.....spray the whole town....no thanks

- Alan stone | 7/24/17 3:18 PM

Thank you Mary for your very important and informative article on the gypsy moth situation we are facing,in Holliston, especially The Oaks all along Maple St. where I live have been severely attacked by these invaders. (Why this was named Maple St. is beyond me. The street is pretty much lined with Oaks...bare Oaks.) Like many others, I'm sure, my driveway is so heavily saturated with caterpillar droppings that the heavy rain doesn't even help to wash them away. I tracked that disgusting stuff in my car and in my house. I have to literally wash the soles of my shoes when I enter my house after it rained. The Oak in front of my house next to the street is infested with cocoons, much more than what was there in spring. I hate to think what it will be like next summer. Oh well...

- Shirley M. Chipman | 7/15/17 10:22 AM

There is also a virus they carry. My understanding is that it is a combination of the fungus and the virus that kills them. They liquify from the inside. I do believe that their virus can be causing some effects in people even though I've been told it can't ... I've come across another person in town that has the same symptoms I do with leg muscle weakness and exhaustion (even though I have big strong leg muscles). Two years in a row and it starts in late April/May when the eggs start to hatch. I think some day you will hear of this new discovery. We need to get rid of the gypsy moths in a safe way but one way or the other they have to go! This year they defoliated 100% of one big oak and 75% of two others and that was just in my front yard.

- Robin Natanel | 7/15/17 7:21 AM

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