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Gypsy moths are back in Oregon, though still in small numbers

In all of Oregon, only two gypsy moths blundered into government traps last year. Both stumbled into the same trap, which was located just northwest of Grants Pass. Instead of the sex they had been promised by pheromone odor, they found themselves on a gluey surface that wouldn't let go.

The two gypsy moths captured in September didn't exactly constitute an infestation. More than 19,000 were trapped in Lane County alone in the mid-1980s But it was enough to catch the attention of the Oregon Invasive Species Council and the state Department of Agriculture.

Zero moths were trapped in Oregon in 2011 and only one in 2012, in Eugene.

"The detection of two gypsy moths in a specific location historically is not considered a major issue," Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the agency, said via email. "ODA is not proposing a gypsy moth eradication project (spray project) at this time, but will monitor this year's traps very closely when they are placed late spring and throughout the summer."

A naturalist trying to develop a disease-resistant silkworm brought gypsy moths to Massachusetts from Europe in 1869. To the ultimate ruin of the Northeast, some escaped.

Gypsy moths are among the worst defoliators of both softwood and hardwood trees. In their caterpillar stage, they can eat as much as a square foot of leaves per day. Since 1980, they have stripped about one million acres of forest each year.

"The caterpillars spread naturally on silken threads and are carried by air currents," according to Diana Kimberling, an entomologist with Oregon's Department of Agriculture. "The adult females lay egg masses on almost any surface, and those can be transported on vehicles, outdoor goods, containers, etc.”

Widespread defoliation also leaves forests open to disease, fire and erosion along creek and rivers, and affects animal and plant habitat.

"The gypsy moth does not prefer the northeastern U.S. It just got introduced there first," Kimberling said. "It will do quite well in the Northwest, if it becomes established. But ODA has been successful at keeping it out of Oregon since the 1970s. Our trapping program ensures that we can detect it early before it becomes a problem."