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Spongy moths could cause extensive tree defoliation this year

By Kate Evans, The Morgan Messenger

MORGAN COUNTY, W.Va. — Some Morgan County residents are reporting high numbers of spongy moth egg masses this year  after last year’s deluge of caterpillars, pupae and adult moths that caused tree defoliation.  The spongy moth (Lymantria dispar) was formerly known as the gypsy moth.

West Virginia officials are concerned about possible tree mortality, disease from tree stress, deforestation and defoliation that could occur from the spread of the spongy moth without treatment to infested properties.

Scott Hoffman, West Virginia Department of Agriculture Gypsy Moth Cooperative Suppression Coordinator, said last year that they saw a lot of defoliation in Morgan County from the spongy moths-mainly on Cacapon Mountain and in Great Cacapon. In some areas the defoliation was heavy while other areas had lighter damage.

Hoffman expected this year’s spongy moth population to be much higher in Morgan County and the damage to be much worse.

Last year and this year they checked areas that included Cacapon Mountain, Sideling Mountain and Sleepy Creek Mountain, Hoffman said.  Caterpillar infestations and tree defoliation were seen in those areas last year.  They’ve counted high numbers of egg masses in those areas this year.  The larvae will be starting to hatch from the eggs masses in the higher elevations with the warmth and rain.  Other areas will follow in mid to late April.

The spongy moth larvae are very tiny when they first hatch-around 1/ 4 inch. They go through around five or six instars as larvae.  They don’t become actual moths in the adult stage until around July, Hoffman said.

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