2017-05-11 / News

Caterpillars back; damage temporary

Landowners are expected to shriek as the army of gypsy moth caterpillars marches into Jamestown, but state environmental officials are reminding them that no long-term damage is expected.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is reporting high concentrations of caterpillars this spring. While a nuisance, the state says the pests do not pose a public health threat and eventually will die off naturally.

While the caterpillars are considered harmless, widespread defoliation of trees and shrubs are expected; however, these effects will be temporary. The vast majority of the impacted tree canopy is expected to recover.

Caterpillars have just begun hatching from egg masses. Once hatched, they will disperse with the wind on thin threads of silk. As the caterpillars grow, they will become increasingly noticeable on tree trunks and on the underside of leaves.

At this time, the state does not plan to apply pesticide to control caterpillar populations because widespread use can be detrimental to the environment and harmful to other insects and wildlife.

In recent springs, gypsy moth populations have been on the rise because of the dry weather conditions. In 2016, aerial surveys and ground sampling conducted documented the defoliation of close to 226,000 acres of forestland. An outbreak of gypsy moth in the mid-1980s defoliated 411,000 acres of Rhode Island forestland.

Return to top