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What's With All the Moths?

The winter moth is a pest that strips trees of their leaves and ultimately kills them.

You arrive home at night and there are dozens of them flying around your lights at the front door. They seem to be attacking the Christmas lights you recently hung too. What's with all the moths?

These winter moths are in the midst of their annual mating season, albeit a bit late this year. Typically, it's November but the unusual warm temperatures this spring have them abundant in December.

An invasive species in New England, these winter moths.

The adult winter moths emerge from the ground from now until January.The female moths climb trees and homes and wait for males to mate. The females are gray and because they are almost wingless, don’t fly. The tan-colored males can only fly in temperatures above freezing. Both males and females are nocturnal.

 After mating, females lay their eggs in tree bark crevices or in other sheltered locations.

Female winter moths lay their eggs primarily on the trunks and branches of their host plants. The tiny oval eggs first appear in late November and continue to appear through December as new female moths appear. Initially, these eggs are tiny and green in color. They will be scattered loosely along the bark, in bark furrows and out on the larger branches. After a short time period, the eggs turn a pinkish-orange color and thus are more visible.

Eventually, all the adult moths die.

The eggs hatch in the spring when temperatures average in the mid-50s.

The winter moth is a pest that strips trees of their leaves and ultimately kills them. UMass Amherst offers some tips on treating trees with eggs. Click here for their advice.

It is a serious problem in New England. They have no natural enemies in North America to keep the populations in check.

Entomologists theorize that the pest arrived here in cocoons buried in the soil of landscape trees and plants from infested parts of other New England states, Charlene Donahue, forest entomologist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry told the Kennebunk Journal.

A parasitic fly, Cyzenis albicans, has been established in six Bay State communities and is showing some effectiveness in controlling the winter moth, according to entomologist Joe Elkinton, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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