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The gypsy moth was first brought to the United States in 1869 to crossbreed with silkworms in the hopes of creating a more productive species. Since then, it has caused severe tree damage and become a nuisance to residents in parts of the nation.
But state officials are breathing a sigh of relief after wrapping up the latest gypsy moth survey. Six male gypsy moths were found in four traps in 3 Missouri counties. That's down from 12 moths caught during last year's survey. Mike Brown, state entomologist with the Missouri department of agriculture, says the latest results are encouraging'
"It tells us that we're ok for another year as far as uncovering an active infestation. We typically find a number of adults each year, but until we find a significant number and are able to uncover a reproducing population, it gives us a sense of relief that we don't have an active infestation going on somewhere in the state."
The problem is getting closer'currently, the nearest reproducing population is in northern Illinois'around Chicago. Arkansas has seen heavy infestations in the past. It's believed most of the gypsy moths captured during this year's survey were brought into the state by traveling vehicles, which is how the moth earned the nickname "gypsy." Most were found around St. Louis, but one was caught in Stone County. Brown says the Branson area is of particular concern to the department'
"That area continues to be a focal point for us of concern because of the high volume of traffic and the high tourism that comes into that area. There's certainly potential to bring something in from another part of the country."
Gypsy moths can cause considerable damage when infestations occur. The caterpillars devour the foliage of more than 500 varieties of trees, especially the oaks that are so prevalent in Missouri'
"'and of course the Ozarks are probably the most dense stand of oak trees in the country and so it represents a lot of potential host material'almost like a salad bar, if you will, for the gypsy moth caterpillar, and they can cause considerable damage, defoliating thousands of acres of trees in parts of the country where the infestations are heavy, but the control costs will be tremendous once it gets here."
According to the mo department of agriculture, a severe infestation can curtail tourism activities and contaminate water supplies, leading to widespread health problems. For more information or to report a suspected insect, contact the department at 573-751-5507.