Deadly Fungus May Help Gypsy Moth Sprayers

By: Jarrod Aldom
By: Jarrod Aldom

Despite the recent snow, spring is here. And with it comes the threat of gypsy moths. But Mother Nature may be helping in the fight against the pests.

The game plan in battling gypsy moths in the Shenandoah National Park this year doesn't include the spraying that normally takes place. It's because of a microscopic fungus that kills gypsy moth caterpillars. But that's the exception and not the rule, thanks to recent years of drought in Virginia.

"The drought has been a big factor," says DeeDee Sellers, an entomologist from the U. S Forest Service. "From year to year we see an increase in the gypsy moth population. The fungus does not survive well in drought conditions."

Bob Grace, the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County gypsy moth coordinator, says viruses and funguses are great in keeping moth populations down. But he says it's unpredictable, so he will still spray in areas around here.

"When I say to you, you should spend $12 to protect an acre of those trees, it makes sense from an economical standpoint, even if there is a virus," says Grace.

Sellers agrees.

"I do think the fungus presents a new wrinkle in gypsy moth management," says Sellers. "We would like to think of it as a silver bullet, but we can't predict."

Grace says Virginia is only treating 20,000 acres this year. That's down from 90,000 last year. Sellers hopes the trend will continue, and sees a future where the fungus can be used as part of the Forest Service's management plan.

"It will be interesting to see what happens this spring because we've obviously had a lot of winter moisture and it looks like we'll be getting a lot of moisture in the spring I hope," says Sellers.

Grace says people need to watch for defoliation starting May 1. He says if you think you have a problem, call your local gypsy moth coordinator immediately.


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