Caterpillar invasion in Groton bad news for trees

GROTON, Conn. (WTNH) – A pesky critter has been creeping its way into Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and now Connecticut.

The winter moth caterpillars are so small that sometimes it’s hard to see them. But the damage they cause is tough to miss.

Richard Conant is with the Avalonia Land Conservancy which has property right next to Beebe Pond Park in Groton where winter moth caterpillars have moved in.

“Still does some damage to the leaf but it’s really the initial damage to the bud … usually it destroys the bud, as I understand,” Conant said.

The primary threat is defoliation of the trees. And without leaves they can’t produce the sugars needed to feed them.

“If it’s defoliated again eventually uses up all its energy reserves and kills the tree,” Conant said. The caterpillars are native to Europe and were first seen in Nova Scotia in the 50s. “These are probably very tasty to some of the local bird life,” Conant said.

The state has also introduced another natural predator — a parasitic fly — hoping it will help control the destructive bugs. Before that though they used traps to catch and confirm the winter moths and now the caterpillars are here.

“Should we be going after them with herbicides? Probably not,” Conant said. “That’s one extremely expensive and then there’s all types of collateral damage from spraying herbicides.”

So for now the state will monitor trapping stations to try to keep an eye on the caterpillars which are here. The good news is that they have been able to be controlled in the other areas where they’ve been found.

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