Vermont sees increase in gypsy moth caterpillars

That's because of COVID and inconsistent dry weather patterns.
Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 8:14 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Caterpillars crawling on trees are now becoming a common sight in yards across our region.

Vermont has not seen an outbreak this large since 1991. According to the state, because of COVID and inconsistent dry weather patterns, they didn’t know what to expect for this year’s gypsy moth caterpillars. But now that they are here, there isn’t much we can do until they pupate and become moths, which will likely happen sometime in July.

“I squish them as I go along,” said Jane Schlossberg, a St. George resident, who has a never-ending battle with the invasive insect. “They stream down on these silken webs like little rappelers. They just come down and thousands of little paratroopers coming down and the house was just draped.”

Schlossberg is on the front lines, trying to protect her freshly planted garden, and its prime source of shade. “I noticed the tree, above me that is the solace of the garden -- the shade area -- is becoming bare,” she said. But no matter how many she traps, kills, or moves, it’s an endless war.

And Vermont state entomologist Judy Rosovsky says it’s not just Schlossberg, they are everywhere. “A nice big, hairy creepy caterpillar. They’ve been suppressed for 30 years and they are coming on back,” Rosovsky said.

She says this year offered the perfect storm for the resurgence. Last year, due to COVID, the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture couldn’t do their typical monitoring of insects. “We didn’t have the data to say where the heaviest concentrations were or to know what was coming,” said Rosovsky. Now, to try to protect the trees, Rosovsky has a few suggestions you can do at home. “If you’re trying to keep your trees from defoliation, using a burlap band or a sticky band -- those work. Depends on the numbers, you know. It can overwhelm them, but if you check them once and a while, that’s good. The other thing is, in the fall, when you see those egg masses and they are sort of an oval beige bump, if you can scrape those off into a bucket of soapy water, that will reduce the numbers you will see next year.”

The caterpillars can give some people a rash, so Rosovsky doesn’t recommend picking them up. She says they are also looking ahead to see what they can do this year and next to try to lower their numbers.

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