Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gypsy Moths Return to Northeast Worst Outbreak in a Decade Descends on Northeast; Entomologists Do Not Know How to Stop It. SUMMER'S MUNCH

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gypsy Moths Return to Northeast Worst Outbreak in a Decade Descends on Northeast; Entomologists Do Not Know How to Stop It. SUMMER'S MUNCH

Article excerpt

THE United States is facing its biggest outbreak of gypsy moths in nearly 10 years.

Worse, the leaf-eating pest is steadily extending its range beyond the Northeast.

"It looks like it will be the worst since the big outbreak in '81," says Lawrence Abrahamson, a forest entomologist at the State University of New York at Syracuse.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see 4 million acres" defoliated, adds Daniel Twardus, a US Forest Service entomologist in Morgantown, W.Va.

Such estimates are very preliminary, because the leaf-eating caterpillar is just now entering its final days of feeding in most of the Northeastern states, when it does its most damage.

More precise figures won't be known until states conduct aerial surveys of their forests this month. Worse than last year

Whatever the final totals, the consensus among entomologists is that this year's infestation is worse than last year, when the pests defoliated some 3 million acres of trees (an area roughly the size of Connecticut).

Any defoliation above that total would make 1990 the worst gypsy-moth year since 1982, when the pests devoured 8.2 million acres.

In the peak year of 1981, gypsy moths stripped 12.9 million acres of trees - an area equal to Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island combined.

This year's defoliation is more spotty than in 1981 but it has spread over a much wider area. The expansion poses the most serious challenge to entomologists, because they do not know how to stop it.

In less than a decade gypsy moths have moved beyond the Northeast into Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

"The problem is steadily worsening," says Chuck Schwalbe, director of the Otis Methods Development Center on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, part of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "The opportunity is there for an outbreak of a much larger area than in 1981." Defoliation's effect

Defoliation by the voracious gypsy moth, or Lymantria dispar, usually doesn't kill a tree the first time.

But repeated defoliations take their toll, leaving older and less vigorous trees vulnerable to drought and other pests.

Between 1969 and 1987, about 6 billion cubic feet of trees in Pennsylvania died as the result of gypsy moths. …

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