First Gypsy Moth of Year Found in WA

gypsymothBad news was found in a trap near Port Townsend this week - the first gypsy moth of the summer in Washington. Northwest states work hard every summer to keep them out of the region - so hard that even a few found by state trappers lead to an all-out gypsy moth eradication project in an area. Moth eggs often arrive with the household goods of people moving to Washington from 19 moth-infested states in the Midwest and Northeast.

Mike Louisell, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department, said the pests typically migrate on items people leave outdoors.

"Usually they come in in a birdhouse or a barbecue set, or maybe it's some furniture," he said, "The problem, of course, is these gypsy moth eggs are not exactly huge - and that's exactly why we have inspection programs."

Moving vans sometimes are inspected for hitchhiking pests. Louisell said a single moth isn't cause for concern yet, and 70 additional traps have been placed near where the first moth was found to see if any more turn up. The presence of adult moths signals a need to spray the following year, before their eggs become destructive, leaf-eating caterpillars.

The Agriculture Department has 26 trappers checking about 25,000 traps this summer, mostly in western Washington. Louisell said most people don't mind having the traps in their yards or on their land.

"Public support for trapping is important," he said, "because trapping is a lot cheaper, to find that early, than to find it when it's spread and becomes a more expensive and technologically harder job to complete a successful eradication."

One gypsy-moth caterpillar can eat 11 square feet of vegetation during its lifetime, and isn't picky about the trees and plants it goes after.

Washington has been lucky so far. In Illinois in July, about 38,000 acres were sprayed in nine counties to stop the spread of the gypsy moth.

Information about the gypsy moth is online at agr.wa.gov. A website with a checklist for moth-free moving is hungrypests.com.

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. - Chris Thomas, News Service, August 1, 2014