It’s alive! It’s alive!

By now, most people have probably heard about the plague of cicadas coming our way, or even heard the buzzing of the insects themselves as they emerge from the ground after 17 years to mate, lay eggs, and die. Because they spend so little time feeding, cicadas generally do not devastate trees and plants, unlike the gypsy and brown-tail moths that invaded New England and New Brunswick in 1938. Not native to the United States, the insects had been in the country since the 1800s.

 “Areas Quarantined for the Gypsy Moth and Brown-Tail Moth.” 1938. United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine. 1990.178.0

“Areas Quarantined for the Gypsy Moth and Brown-Tail Moth.” 1938. United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine. 1990.178.0

A map labeled “Areas Quarantined for the Gypsy Moth and Brown-Tail Moth” shows the wide ranges of the gypsy moth (shown in pink for areas of general infestation and green for areas of light infestation) and the brown-tail moth (marked with a thick black line). The quarantine information printed on the map reveals something of the devastation the moths could visit upon the trees of the region, as it required that all evergreens, nursery stock, forest products, and stone and quarry products originating in infested areas be inspected for signs of infestation. What the map does not show is the ferocity with which the moth larvae would attack the foliage of coniferous and deciduous trees, leaving them bare and susceptible to secondary injuries from fungi or other insects. If the trees were not killed outright, their growth was stunted; both of these outcomes resulted in the loss of millions of dollars for the forestry industry, as well as the loss of recreational spaces and dollars as people avoided areas with defoliated trees.

The infestation continues—the US Forest Service has stated that it is inevitable that the gypsy moth will continue to spread across the contiguous United States.

Tasha Caswell is the Project Cataloger/Researcher at the Connecticut Historical Society.

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