Residents of Massachusetts and other northeastern states have become well acquainted with Gypsy moth caterpillars over the years. These invasive caterpillars are mostly known for damaging trees within uninhabited forested regions, but these insects can also be a considerable nuisance within residential areas of Massachusetts. Gypsy moth caterpillars also infest urban and suburban trees. For example, a massive Gypsy moth caterpillar infestation within thousands of acres of Massachusetts trees saw residents showered with caterpillar feces during 2016. The trees were so heavily populated with the caterpillars that their droppings rained down on residents below. This 2016 Gypsy moth caterpillar invasion was the worst that New England had seen since 1981. Also during 2016, the caterpillars had defoliated such a large area of trees that astronauts were able to make out the large area of leafless trees from space.
During the winter months, Gypsy moth eggs are abundant on trees as well as on the sides of houses and on lawn furniture. In addition to damaging trees and littering urban and suburban areas with their feces, Gypsy moth caterpillars can also irritate human skin with their hair fibers. If these caterpillars come to infest a residential yard, there is not much a homeowner can do to have them eradicated. Not surprisingly, Gypsy moths are invasive insect pests that have not place in the United States. So how did these insects arrive in the northeast?
It is not often that one single individual is responsible for introducing an extremely destructive and invasive insect pest species into a new overseas region, but when it comes to the Gypsy moth caterpillar’s introduction into Massachusetts, a Frenchman named Etienne Leopold Trouvelot is to blame. Trouvelot and his wife started a family in Medford, Massachusetts back in 1855. Trouvelot spent years raising and studying silkworms in an effort to produce large amounts of valuable silk. Eventually, Trouvelot transported the Gypsy moth caterpillar from Europe to the US, as he believed this caterpillar was a more efficient producer of silk. Trouvelot also chose this exotic species due to its natural taste for oak trees, which were abundant on his Medford property. Unfortunately, Trouvelot’s Gypsy moth caterpillar farm became too big to contain within his backyard, and the rest is history.
Did you know that one of the most significant invasive insect pests in the US was deliberately brought into the country?