Waging war on the Gypsy moth almost seems much ado about nothing.
The moths live only 10 days. How much damage can the innocuous-looking insects do in such a short life span?Plenty, state and federal agricultural officials warn. For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Department of Agriculture will wage an aerial battle against the pests, which have voracious appetites and eat as many as 500 species of plants.
This year, the agencies plan to spray nearly 30,000 acres of affected land in Davis, Summit, Salt Lake and Utah counties. The spraying is expected to begin in early May and involve three applications of bacillus thuringiensis, a pesticide that attacks the insect's digestive system.
The insecticide is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the soil.
"It only affects the gypsy moth and the Lepidoptera (the order of butterflies). It doesn't affect car paint or other animals," said L.J. Western, spokeswoman for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Targeted areas include Mueller Park in Davis County; Burr Fork in Emigration Canyon; upper Olympus Cove and Millcreek areas; Knudsen's Corner and Top-of-the-World, between Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, along the suburban Salt Lake foothills; Prospector Hills; Vivian Park and other areas in lower Provo Canyon. More than half of the affected property is federal land.
According to U.S. Forest Service reports, the spraying conducted in 1989 and 1990 reduced the gypsy moth populations by approximately 90 percent each year.
In addition to spraying, pest-busters also control the moths by establishing quarantine areas from which forest products cannot be removed or by using cardboard traps baited with female gypsy moth pheromones and suspended from trees. Last year, more than 5,000 traps hung in six counties caught about 500 male moths.
The gypsy moth's favorite food is oak leaves, which open about the same time the moth larvae emerge from egg masses. Up to 1,000 larvae are born from each egg mass laid the previous summer.
The moth has no natural enemies. It was brought to the United States in 1869 by a naturalist who wanted to cross it with silkworms to produce silk.