[CT Birds] Slightly off-topic: mass gypsy moth caterpillars dead

Comins, Patrick PCOMINS at audubon.org
Mon Jun 20 17:56:20 EDT 2016


The likely cause of death was a fungus (Entomophaga maimaiga) that was introduced to act as a biological control agent.   I've noticed much larger and more widespread defoliation events this year than I've seen in many years,  mostly impacting oaks and some birches.  I suspect that the dry weather has delayed the spread and activation of the fungus.  

Gypsy moths were introduced to North America accidentally in the mid-late 19th Century.  I believe It was hoped that they could be a substitute for the finicky silk moth.   Cuckoos do prey upon the caterpillars as to several other species of birds, which could have a banner year. 

Interestingly another non-native species that is a favorite of birds is also related to the silk industry, the white mulberry tree was introduced because it is the preferred host plant for the silkworm caterpillar.  Having grown up in Manchester, the Silk City, I was quite familiar with this tree.  While it is a favorite of birds, it is also an invasive non-native species and has caused problems with "genetic swamping" of our native red mulberry tree.     White mulberry is listed as an invasive species in some states but not in Connecticut.

An interesting side effect of this defoliation event may be a more robust than usual growth season for understory shrubs and for the regeneration of forest trees that are normally shade intolerant.   This could benefit populations of birds that require such vegetation including Veery, Eastern Towhee, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Wood Thrush.  I'm curious as to how oak regeneration will be affected.  Last year was an unusually heavy mast year for many species of oak and hickory, but of course this event won't help with regeneration if the seedlings are also eaten by the caterpillars.  

Patrick


Patrick M. Comins, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Connecticut
Phone: (203)405-9115  http://ct.audubon.org/ 
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-----Original Message-----
From: CTBirds [mailto:ctbirds-bounces at lists.ctbirding.org] On Behalf Of Tammy Eustis via CTBirds
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2016 11:28 AM
To: Aaron Dollar <aarondollar at hotmail.com>; ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Slightly off-topic: mass gypsy moth caterpillars dead

Does sound to me like the fungus that hit them the last time they overtook the state. I know humans are so quick to consider things like spraying for insect infestations, but it's always worth waiting for nature to reset itself (nature abhors a lack of balance as much as it abhors a vacuum). I can say that the cuckoos - both black and yellow-billed - have been having a field day in our neck of the woods this year!
:-)  Tammy Eustis, Chester

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [CT Birds] Slightly off-topic: mass gypsy moth caterpillars dead
From: Aaron Dollar via CTBirds <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Date: Sun, June 19, 2016 9:59 pm
To: "ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org" <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>

Hi All -


I had a wonderful father's day walk/hike through the Genessee patch of the CT Regional Water Authority property (anyone with young kids - there are miles of very secluded (stroller-friendly) dirt road trails leading from the southern entrance off of Race Hill Rd. in Madison). Throughout the whole property we came across hundreds of dead/dying gypsy moth caterpillars - mostly sill clinging to tree trunks, but also littered across the ground. Did they fall from some sort of pesticide or something else? I can't imagine spraying/treating such a large area, so I am guessing something more natural? Anyone have a clue?


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