Ohio officials fighting tree-killing gypsy moth

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DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Montgomery County was in the action zone for treatment against the dangerous gypsy moth as late as 2017, but thanks to technology and cooperation between states, that’s no longer the case. 

Ohio is among 11 states spraying for the insect this week to force its population further eastward. Using crop duster planes, the state will treat 12 of the 51 counties the Department of Agriculture considers under quarantine for the insect. 

Invasive and highly destructive,  the gypsy moth was first introduced to the United States in 1869. It’s eggs that can produce 500-1,000 larvae. Gypsy moth larvae eat foliage nonstop and can devour 12 square inches of foliage in a 24-hour period. 

“I’ve seen an oak tree completely defoliated in 48 hours,” the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s David Adkins said. 

“In an area where the gypsy moth has developed cross populations, it can kill 18 percent of oak trees. In two years, it can kill 90 percent. After three years, it’s almost 100 percent.”

The state has been battling the insect since the 1970s. It began developing a plan in 1998 to stop its march westward. This led to crop dusting with the female pheromone that attracts males during breeding. Spraying the pheromone confuses males and keeps them from locating females to fertilize eggs. 

The downside of spraying, it doesn’t work in areas where the insect has developed cross populations, meaning its population is large enough the spray won’t have an affect.

The spraying has worked, knocking the insects population line back 50 miles. 

“It’s been very successful in Ohio, but the key is to catching populations when they’re small and treat them then,” Adkins said. 

The Miami Valley is out of the population zone for the insect, but it has appeared in some areas and been treated. The Department of Agriculture treated the insect at John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs and Xenia in recent years. In 2005, the department treated the moth in Centerville. 

“People don’t notice it around Ohio, and that’s because we’ve been able to keep it under control and in small areas,” Adkins said. “If the moth were to break out, it’s sometimes hard for people to realize how much damage this insect can do.”

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