Spongy months again

It took eight months for the Entomological Society of America to come up with a new name for the invasive “spongy moth,” which is widespread in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. It was introduced in  Massachusetts in the 1800s, according to the Society, and today racks up a damages in the millions of dollars.

The name change process started in July of 2021 when the previous name, “gypsy moth,” was removed due to its use of a derogatory term for the Romani people. By March 2022, “spongy moth” was adopted — the first initiated by the Society’s Better Common Names Project. The origin of “spongy” derives from the common name used in France and French-speaking Canada for the moth’s egg masses, which look like sponges, or “spongieuse.”

In a Page One article in this issue, Debra Aleksinas reports on the “spongy moth” outlook for this summer. Anyone driving through the green hillsides of the Northwest Corner last summer can recall seeing whole hillsides turned brown from the defoliation created by these insects. Last year, more than 45,000 acres were defoliated, and that followed an equally devastating stripping of 40,000 acres in 2021. Sharon and Cornwall were hard hit in both years.

According to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, while the outbreaks over the past two years were severe, they don’t match with the estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million acres impacted in Connecticut in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Still, many of the trees hit hard by spongy moth two years in a row are likely to die, scientists say. Last year, by midsummer, there were signs that many trees had put out a new set of leaves, getting a second wind. But foresters are concerned about the vitality of trees that may face a third strike this season.

The hatching period from the egg masses typically comes between late April and mid-May. That’s now. The next larval stage lasts for weeks. Adults emerge in late June through the middle of July and can persist into August.

The insect spends most of its life cycle (10 months) in the egg stage. If you decide to take matters into your own hands, you can either spray the egg masses with an agricultural oil or insecticidal soap, soaking them completely, or scrape them into a container and dispose of them.  Another approach is to wrap tree trunks with sticky tape.

Besides the stress on the trees after two years of “spongy moth” attacks, there is hope that soil moisture will reach levels that will activate a fungus that kills the invaders. As our Page One article explains, we’re not out of the woods yet. Though we’re not in a drought, we need rain.

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