Be ready to see low-flying aircraft in some areas, as gypsy moth spraying begins

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has started its annual gypsy moth control treatment in targeted areas around central and southeast Ohio. Gypsy moth populations have been found in at least 52 of the state’s 88 counties.

The leaf-eating caterpillars have consumed thousands of acres of trees in Ohio, migrated from Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. The most significant damage in central Ohio occurred in Minerva Park, affecting a total area about as wide as a city block, according to Dave Adkins, manager of the state’s containment program.

Low-flying aircraft treated targeted areas in Perry and Licking counties Friday. A yellow air tractor sprayed about 446 acres in Gahanna early Saturday, east of I-270 and north of Route 62. In the next week, two sites in eastern Delaware County to the east of Alum Creek Reservoir will be treated, when the weather permits, and parts of northwestern Ohio including Marion County.

Healthy trees can recover from the munching insects, but not after repeated defoliation, which is why there is an active effort to halt the progress of the gypsy moth populations in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

Ohio State University entomologist Dr. David Shetlar said, “The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s gypsy moth “Slow the Spread” program has been very successful in keeping gypsy moth populations from developing massive populations that defoliate Ohio’s forests.”

Shetlar said the biobased insecticide used by the ODA early in the season kills young caterpillars but does not generally affect the butterflies. The treatment consists of a naturally occurring bacterium found in the soil that disrupts the feeding cycle of caterpillars, and a virus that affects the gypsy moth caterpillars. The applications are not toxic to people, pets, birds and fish.

The ideal weather conditions for the application are around sunrise, when the air is cooler and the humidity is higher, which makes evaporation of the droplets unlikely as the plane flies above the treetops in affected areas.

Early spraying initially is aimed at tiny caterpillars, where a population of moths was discovered in traps set out last summer. The next treatment phase is scheduled for mid-June, which is designed to disrupt the mating patterns of gypsy moths, resulting in barren eggs.

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