Residents across the region have reported infestations and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said it has received reports of outbreaks in areas like Finger Lakes, and counties of Clinton, Saratoga, Warren and Monroe, among others.
DEC forester Rob Cole said last week in a Facebook live that “one of the reasons we are concerned about gypsy moths is the amount of defoliation it causes, especially on oak trees.”
He said that once the insects have eaten the leaves, the tree has no way to complete photosynthesis and make food for itself. “This depletes a tree’s energy,” he said. â¨
The department also said that defoliation reduces the resistance of a tree, and it becomes more susceptible to pests and diseases.
The DEC said the larval stage of a gypsy moth is a caterpillar that hatches in the spring from eggs laid the summer before. Young caterpillars eat tender new leaves, but as a caterpillar grows, it can eat older and tougher leaves, it said.
The department said in an update that it’s tracking elevated populations of gypsy moth that are causing leaf damage across New York State. The caterpillars will begin to disappear in July as they become moths, it said.
Shannan Warwick, a resident of Schuyler County, told Syracuse.com that the insects have eaten all the leaves of her oak trees, and are halfway to defoliating the apple trees. She said she had to remove the picnic tables because of the droppings of caterpillar excrement.
She said: “It sounds like it’s raining in the back yard. It’s really disgusting.”
Mr Cole said that since the gypsy moths have been around for so long, over 150 years, they have naturalised in New York and have become cyclical in nature.
He said: “They are always around, but we often don’t see them very much. Then every 10-15 years, the population spills and we have these outbreaks like the one we are seeing in 2021.”
Johnstown resident Will Wilkins told News 10 ABC last week there are thousands of gypsy moths all over his yard. Glenville Town supervisor Chris Koetzle also said other constituents have approached him with similar complaints.
A Facebook post from the department on the gypsy moth caterpillar outbreak garnered various reactions, with some people sharing photos of “caterpillar poop raining down from the trees” and others saying they are really “sick” of the infestation now.
One user commented: “My kids and I were hiking in Lockport last week. There were hundreds of them falling out of the trees and right onto our clothes. You couldn’t even walk without stepping on them. It was the stuff that nightmares are made of!!”
The DEC said that when outbreaks occur and populations are high every 10-15 years in New York, thousands of acres of trees can be damaged. It said that deciduous trees — the ones that lose their leaves each fall — can regrow a new set of leaves by July and can usually withstand 2-3 successive years of defoliation.
But when oak and other preferred trees are limited, they will even eat evergreen species including spruce and hemlock, the department said. However, evergreens do not regrow leaves as easily as deciduous trees and can die as a result of complete defoliation.