Due to the increasing number of inquiries to the town hall and the tree warden regarding this year’s appearance of the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar, Lyme Tree Warden Lars Anderson has contacted Jon Parker, owner/arborist, Yankee Tree LLC who has written and provided the following information, which you may also read in the attachment:



What are they?

They are the larval, or caterpillar, stage of an invasive, non-native insect brought to this country to potentially make silk. The experiment failed, some escaped captivity and have periodically been a damaging pest of trees since the early 1900’s.


What is their life cycle?

Eggs hatch in early spring (late April into early May) and crawl out of egg masses that may contain up to 1,000 eggs. At this time they are a mere 1/16” inch long and appear black.  Most hatch from egg masses laid in trees.  They can disperse to other trees via a process called “ballooning” whereby they hang from their silk-like thread and are blown laterally by the wind.  They feed on leaf tissue and grow rapidly and can approach 3” long by early July.  In early July the large and lethargic caterpillars seek the undersides of branches and bark crevasses where they pupate (create a cocoon), and undergo complete metamorphosis.  Ten to fourteen days later, adult moths emerge.  The females are white and do not fly.  Males are dark brown and fly around seeking females.  Egg masses are laid in mid to late summer.  The adult moths die off after mating and egg-laying.  Gypsy moths “overwinter” as eggs from mid/late summer to early spring of the next year whereupon they hatch and begin the next generation.


How are they damaging?

The caterpillars feed on the leaf tissue of many tree species, however they prefer oaks. If there is a high density of caterpillars in a given area, complete defoliation is a typical result.  After the oaks are defoliated, maples, hickories, birches, fruit trees and other broadleaf, deciduous trees may be heavily fed upon.  White pine, hemlock, spruce, and fir are also attacked.


How do I know if my trees have a caterpillar infestation?

Look for their excrement. It will be small, round pellets getting larger as the caterpillars grow.  Listen for what people typically call their “munching”, actually it is their excrement dropping and hitting leaves on the way down.  Look at the undersides of susceptible trees to spot them.  Notice any green leaf portions on the ground under the trees, these were likely eaten off and separated from the leaf stem.  Observe oak tree canopies in your area to see if they appear to be getting thinner.


Will they kill my trees?

Generally, defoliation of a broadleaf tree for one year only will not be lethal. The tree will put out a new set of leaves in the latter half of the summer, this process requires the tree to convert stored reserve energy into leaf production.  A couple or more years of consecutive defoliation can cause tree decline and death can result.  The evergreens however can be killed as a result of one total or partial defoliation in just one season (they don’t refoliate).


What can I do to help my trees?

On smaller trees, locate, remove, and destroy the overwintering egg masses. Wrapping a burlap “skirt” around the tree trunks might help one collect and destroy caterpillars that have fallen out of the canopy or those that are invading from other areas.  Do not apply grease or any other product directly to the tree trunk.


What can a professional do to help my trees?

A Connecticut licensed arborist may offer services to control the caterpillars throughout the entire tree. Early in the caterpillar season, organic and biological spray materials can be very effective.  In the latter half of the season, more traditional insecticides can be sprayed on the foliage to control the gypsy moth larvae.  During years of severe infestation levels and on properties with adjacent un-sprayed trees, two applications may be required for optimum results.  Ask the arborist any questions you may have about the product being used.


This information was written and provided by:

Jon Parker, owner/arborist

Yankee Tree LLC

Old Lyme, Connecticut