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More Rain And Fungus Needed To Kill Connecticut's Gypsy Moths

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Gyspy moths have spread throughout the northeastern United States in the past decades.

Connecticut’s top insect expert is banking on more rain, and a fungus, to knock back populations of gypsy moths. For the past two years, those hungry pests have plagued Connecticut’s trees.

Gypsy moth caterpillars, with their tell-tale rows of blue and red spots, munch on leaves, defoliate trees, and sometimes kill them.

There is a fungus that can control the pests, but it’s only effective when the ground’s wet, which means Kirby Stafford, the state entomologist, wants to see more rain.

"The fungus is starting to catch hold, but the mortality hasn’t yet risen to the point where it’s really benefiting homeowners seeing their trees hit this year," Stafford said.

So far, Stafford said he’s gotten reports of gypsy moths in over 30 towns. In 2015, the caterpillars hit 180,000 acres -- and over 200,000 last year.

Christopher Martin, director of forestry at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said gypsy moths, combined with the recent drought, have killed off trees, most notably in eastern and southeastern Connecticut.

"We have an area in Pachaug State Forest, in fact, where there’s significant acreage of mortality due to the drought and the gypsy moths combined," Martin said.

Martin and Stafford said if your tree is infested with gypsy moths there are things you can do. Call a licensed arborist or even wrap your tree in non-sticky plastic at its base.

"We had a woman that sent in a picture where she used Saran Wrap as a tree band around her trees - and the caterpillars didn't want to go past that," Stafford said. "They're migrating up and down the trees now and it blocks them from getting back up into the trees."

In the meantime, Stafford said he's hopeful more rain in the next two weeks will yield more fungal spread -- killing caterpillars so fewer pupate, breed, and plague Connecticut trees next year.

Copyright 2017 WNPR News. To see more, visit WNPR News.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.