Trees hit by spongy moth expected to refoliate

A lot of trees lost their leaves thanks to the spongy moth caterpillar, and many Vermonters continue to say they are feeling the two good developments in the o
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 8:39 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 9:07 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Defoliation from the spongy moth caterpillar -- formerly known as the gypsy moth -- can be seen across our region. But state forestry officials say the damage should be less than in previous years because the state is not in drought conditions.

“It’s kind of what we expected with the spongy moth outbreak that is currently in Vermont,” said John Halman with the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation.

But he says the tides appear to be turning and the trees ravaged by the moth will have a chance to refoliate this summer.

“Trees always sort of have these dormant buds, but typically they don’t come out because there is no need,” said Halman.

He says the trees won’t totally refoliate, but some smaller patches of leaves will keep them going.

A naturally occurring virus known as nucleopolyhedrosis, or NPV, and a fungus -- both natural enemies to the caterpillar -- also appear to be making a comeback.

“It’s nice that it is happening. It’s nice that the virus is there ready to knock back the population,“ said Margaret Skinner, an entomologist with the UVM Extension.

The fungus has contributed to keeping the population down since the ‘90s, before the latest outbreak. Skinner says it’s a natural cycle, so she suggests homeowners check out their trees themselves.

“It is not something that is infectious to humans, so there is no reason to be concerned,” said Skinner.

Halman says despite the current appearance, Vermont’s oak trees are on the comeback as the spongy moth caterpillar begins to wane.

“We are seeing buds set where the leaves are no longer, which is encouraging because that means those leaves will open up and those trees will be able to photosynthesize again this year,” said Halman.

Halman says very soon they will be getting up in their plane to survey some of the damage from the air to get a better understanding of the acreage of defoliation Vermont saw this year. Then, in the fall, they will be checking out egg masses to see what sort of numbers will remain after this year.

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