Non-native gypsy moths were spotted in Washington state in May causing Gov. Jay Inslee to issue an emergency proclamation because of the creatures.
The threat is posed by both Asian gypsy moths and Asian-European hybrid gypsy moths, according to Inslee’s proclamation.
“This imminent danger of infestation seriously endangers the agricultural and horticultural industries of the state of Washington and seriously threatens the economic well-being and quality of life of state residents,” the proclamation read.
Inslee ordered the director of the department of agriculture “to use emergency measures as necessary … to effect the eradication of gypsy moth,” including the use of aerial insecticides.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service outlined the threat the gypsy moth poses to the country’s landscapes and natural resources.
The agency said that if the exotic pests became established in the United States, they could cause “serious, widespread damage.”
“Large [Asian gypsy moths] infestations can completely defoliate trees. This defoliation can severely weaken trees and shrubs, making them more susceptible to disease,” the information page read.
“Repeated defoliation can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards and landscaping.”
Each female moth lays hundreds of eggs that turn into caterpillars that feast on over 500 tree and shrub species.
The females can also fly long distances and could cause an infestation to quickly spread across the country.
The moths have also been seen in Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
The hairs of young caterpillars contain histamines and cause extreme itching and rashes.
“It starts with an itch, it gets red, it swells up, and then it takes several days to get better, and that’s typically an allergic reaction,” Dr. Bruce Gordon of Cape Cod Ear, Nose and Throat in Hyannis, Massachusetts, explained to WBZ-TV.
Gorden added that while the rash may be uncomfortable, it isn’t life-threatening, and the itch can be calmed with over-the-counter medications.
If you encounter small populations of gypsy moth eggs, the Michigan State University Extension Oakland County has a detailed guide for removing them before they become a problem.
The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture recommends crushing or burning them.
“In small populations, it may be easiest to destroy egg masses that are found on buildings, trees, etc.,” Nursery Inspector Joe Collins explained. “To destroy the egg mass, either crush the eggs or place them in a bucket of kerosene or soapy water. Burning the egg mass will also kill them.”
“Simply picking the egg masses off and dropping them on the ground will not kill them. Be careful when handling the egg masses because the hairs that cover the egg masses may cause an allergic reaction.”
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