Gypsy bugs, scientifically known as Lymantria dispar, are a variety of invasive moths of Eurasian origin. It is one of the most destructive pests of hardwood trees and can defoliate hundreds of acres of forest. Therefore, it is classified as a pest. Any presence of gypsy moths should be treated with urgency.
What are Gypsy Bugs?
- Adult male moths are dark brown in color with black markings. They have highly feathered
antennae and they tend to fly in a zigzag pattern.
- The females are white or cream in color with black markings. They are bigger in size as compared to their male counterparts and therefore, they cannot fly due to their heavy weight. Females have straight, black antennae.
- The females lay eggs in masses of about 1 inch in length. The masses can be found on branches or trunks of trees and outdoor items such as patio furniture.
- Like all other insects, gypsy moths also undergo a series of distinct stages such as egg, caterpillar or larva, pupa, and finally an adult moth stage.
- The eggs are white/cream in color. Larvae/gypsy moth caterpillars are light colored with five pairs of blue bumps or warts followed by six pairs of red bumps on the back. The pupae are dark red in color and are usually found under the bark of the trees.
- The adult moths are most active in July and August.
Gypsy moth caterpillar is often confused with eastern tent caterpillar but the warts present on their body make it easier to identify them. Easter caterpillar doesn’t have any wart on its body, whereas, gypsy moth caterpillar has five pairs of bluish warts followed by six pairs of red warts on its back.
Lifecycle of Gypsy Bugs
The lifecycle of this pest is a year. The cycle starts as eggs that the female adult gypsy bug deposits in July and August. Eggs are deposited in masses of 100 to 600 on trees, stones, outdoor furniture, and other substrates. The eggs overwinter until March and start hatching in late April and May. The larvae or gypsy moth caterpillar do not
feed right after hatching. Instead, they wait to be dispersed by the wind to their new host. This is how they spread to new areas. Young larvae feed on the leaves of the host plants and stay there throughout the day and night. Due to their size, they often go unnoticed. When they are almost half-grown, they start feeding during the night. During the day, they climb down the tree to take shelter in barks and other protected sites that help them stay protected from predators.
Older gypsy moth caterpillars have long hairs protruding from their body with rows of blue and red colored bumps/warts. They enter their pupal stage in late June and early July. The dark red color pupae take shelter under the barks of trees, in crevices, and other protected areas. They stay there for 7-14 days until they become adult gypsy moths. The male moth is a strong flier and usually flies in a zigzag pattern. The females don’t fly. Instead, they stay at their pupation site and release a sex attractant pheromone to attract the males.
Frequented Areas of Gypsy Bugs
The Gypsy bug is Eurasian in origin. It is native to Europe and Asia. It was accidentally introduced to the United States in 1869 by an amateur entomologist, who wanted to breed a silk-spinning caterpillar that is more resistant to diseases than the local silkworm. The gypsy moth caterpillars accidentally escaped from their confined breeding ground and started establishing themselves throughout America. This invasive moth is now found abundantly in Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Cases of infestation are also seen in Oregon, California, Utah, Washington, and British Columbia.
Identification and Special Characteristic:
- Defoliation of trees is the primary indication of the presence of gypsy moths.
- The Gypsy moth caterpillar can be seen crawling up and down the trees during May and June. If there is a large outbreak, you can even see them crawling on the roads, driveway, walls, and other outdoor areas.
- Adult male moths can be seen flying in a zigzag manner during July and August, while females can be seen attached to branches of trees, as well as on outdoor furniture.
- The eggs are easy to notice. They are cream colored and the size would be about the size of a dollar coin.
- The female moth dies within a day of laying eggs, whereas the male survives for a week, mating with many females.
Damage Inflicted By Gypsy Bugs
Gypsy moth caterpillars are the ones that cause major damage to trees. They prefer to feed on the leaves of the hardwood trees such as oak, apple, some poplars, willow, alder, and hawthorn. Young caterpillars eat the middle part of the leaves, whereas the older ones feed on the outer edge. Although most hardwood trees are able to withstand gypsy moth attack for several years, severe defoliation can affect their growth and the quantity and quality of produce. Defoliation can weaken the trees and make them more susceptible to infection and diseases. Further, wandering caterpillars and their droppings can become a nuisance for homeowners.
If you suspect the presence of gypsy bugs in your land, contact your nearby pest control company for a thorough evaluation and control.