The northeast United States is home to several invasive insect species that cause damage to trees within forested areas. Some of these insects include the hemlock woolly adelgid, the emerald ash borer and the European gypsy moth. These pests do not typically infest trees that are located within residential lawns in Massachusetts. But one forest pest in the region known as the winter moth is considered a pest to common trees and other forms of vegetation within residential areas of the state. In fact, Massachusetts residents spend millions of dollars on pest control efforts to eradicate the winter moth from backyard trees and blueberry plants. However, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the winter moth will no longer be an issue for residents of the state, as they have succeeded in eradicating the insects for good.

For nearly two decades, winter moth larvae, or caterpillars, caused defoliation to trees and blueberry bushes throughout the northeast, particularly within Massachusetts. For fourteen years, researchers have been struggling to develop a pest control strategy that would see these invasive pests eradicated from residential properties within the state. Last fall, pest control researchers introduced a non-native fly species into Massachusetts. This fly species is a natural predator of winter moth larvae. Amazingly, this biological control method proved to be a success, as winter moth larvae are no longer considered pests in Massachusetts. The researchers were able to eradicate winter moth larvae before their population reached calamitous proportions. The parasitic fly species, Cyzenis albicans, preys upon winter moth larvae only, making it an ideal biological control agent. When introducing an organism into a non-native habitat, researchers must be sure that no other forms of insect or plant life are adversely affected. The parasitic fly species is physiologically equipped to hunt and kill winter moth larvae while leaving ecologically beneficial insects, like native inch worms, alone.

Have you ever experienced an issue with winter moth larvae on your property?