Photo by SCOTT PIPER
Gypsy moth larva are up to two inches long with pairs of small, bright red and blue spots running the length of their bodies.
By Maureen Patzer
What a difference a week makes.
Since the Livingston County Press ran a story on June 26 concerning the county's burgeoning gypsy moth population, almost 2,000 residents have called their township officials or the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension-Livingston County office for more information on how to fight the pesky foliage feeders.
And it appears some residents have won the equivalent of an insect Lotto.
Along with reports of oak-leaf munching larvae, several residents also said the insects are dying in huge numbers, even in areas not covered by the county's aerial spray program earlier this spring.
A naturally occurring virus, fatal to no other life form than gypsy moth larvae, is rapidly killing off the pests.
"It's the Nucleopolyhedrous virus," said Gretchen Voyle, the MSU Extension-Livingston County horticulturist in charge of controlling the county's gypsy moth population.
"The larvae are breaking apart in my fingers," she said.
The virus occurs only under certain weather conditions, according to experts at MSU, and in areas where there are huge outbreaks in the gypsy moth population.
At high population levels, caterpillars must compete with each other for food and space. Caterpillars get stressed, which makes them more susceptible to the virus disease.
As more caterpillars get sick and die, the disease spreads through the whole population.
Entomologists from MSU are very interested in what's going on in Livingston County, according to Voyle, and will spend the next several weeks investigating the phenomenon.
Although the county sprayed 337.9 acres oearlier this spring, the microbe used is only 70 percent effective -- the virus currently attacking the gypsy moth is 90 percent lethal.
If it is occurring in your backyard, consider yourself very, very fortunate.