Infestation: Gypsy moth caterpillars munch their way across our region

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 5:20 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Gypsy moth caterpillars continue to sow destruction across our region in one of the worst infestations in decades.

Up, down, left, right-- the caterpillars are always in sight.

“Creepy caterpillars driving me nuts,” said Sean Quinn of Burlington.

A neighborhood in Burlington’s New North End is being overwhelmed by the gypsy moth caterpillars.

“Yeah, a lot of issues. They are eating the leaves and pooping everywhere,” said James Belliza of Burlington.

No matter how much 6-year-old Hughey tries to fight them off, dad James Belliza says the caterpillars are causing defoliation.

“I’m spraying off the caterpillars because they are going to eat all that tree,” Hughey said.

“It’s pretty frustrating. It’s sad, these provide shade for us in the summer,” James Belliza said.

Gypsy moth infestations go through cycles, with populations increasing for a few years and then tapering off. Experts say Vermont is seeing one of the largest populations of caterpillars in 30 years.

“The past two years those numbers have been on the increase so we were aware that the population was rising,” said Kathy Decker of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

The state says one reason for the bigger outbreak this year-- a fungus that helps control the population was not as prevalent due to a dry spring. And due to the pandemic, the forestry division was not able to do flights to monitor caterpillar damage.

With the information they had, they still didn’t expect it to be this bad.

“Maybe we could have done a little bit more. I don’t really think we could predict it would be this widespread at this high level,” Decker said.

But even with a heads-up, they say they wouldn’t necessarily have encouraged control measures in the early part of an outbreak.

So what should you do about your bare trees?

“If your large oak has been defoliated, don’t panic and cut it down. The trees have the ability to recuperate,” said V.J. Comai, the Burlington city arborist.

But folks still have to live with the crawling creatures and the mess they make.

“They are in the house, you are tracking up the caterpillar poop. I’ve had to pressure wash the sidewalk and vacuum three times a day,” Quinn said.

Experts say at this stage it’s too late for any widespread mitigation efforts. The caterpillars are expected to complete their life cycle and become moths by next month.

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