Massachusetts has a bit of a problem with its woodlands. Over 100,000 acres of land between Quabbin Reservoir and Cape Cod have been completely destroyed by gypsy moth caterpillars. In the worst outbreak in over 30 years, they have eaten leaves off of many types of treats. This might not sound like a big deal, but they are absolutely destructive to the area. The damage starts around May, when newly hatches larvae will use strands of silk to glib on wind gusts and spread themselves throughout the woodland. They will then munch on leaves for a few months.
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It might be hard to imagine what the area looks like, but it definitely isn't something cute and cuddly. Instead, it looks something like a horror movie. There are caterpillars constantly raining down and covering entire homes.
The worst part is that the gypsy moth isn't native to North America. In fact, the infestation started when a French scientist tried to see if there was a silkworm market within the US in 1869. He housed them in his window sill. One day, the caterpillars blew out the window and repopulated. In 1889, the first infestation hit and there has never been a break.
Then, in 1989, things got even scarier. The outbursts completely disappeared. Most people thought that the problem was solved and completely moved on with their lives.
"The fungus Entomophaga maimaiga, which is present in the forest litter, needs rains to infect the commuting stages of the caterpillar that travel up and down the trees," entomologist Gale Ridge, from The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), told Hartford Courant. "If the rains do not arrive, the caterpillars are not infected and they mature into adults for reproduction."
Which means that the drought last year brought them back. The bad news is that global warming will likely keep this trend moving. Next year might even be worse.
"Connecticut is potentially facing a huge gypsy moth infestation next summer," chief CAES scientist Kirby Stafford said. "If you already have trees that have been defoliated and stripped you may need to go ahead and think about doing some control on the caterpillars next year. You probably will not be able to rely on fungus. Homeowners may have to spray to protect trees early next summer."
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There have been no actions taken yet to curb the spread of the infestation, but hopefully there will be one soon - or we will all be covered in caterpillar poop, warns some scientists.