There are no known permanently established populations of Asian gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar asiatica) in North America– but in order to keep the continent free of this pest, it is critical for forest health professionals to learn about its current status.
Recent reports from USDA APHIS and US Customs and Border Protection indicate that Asian gypsy moth populations are in a general cyclical upswing in their native range of Russia and Japan. This means that the chance that this moth is accidentally brought to North America on shipping container surfaces is higher than usual- which in turn means that Western port communities need to be on high alert.
"Asian Gypsy Moth activity was anticipated to be high at the beginning of the 2014 season, and is anticipated to be yet higher in 2015. At this point we have seen high populations in both Russia and Japan. USDA APHIS is receiving regular reports from these countries to monitor the situation. The busy season for AGM is from June through September, and at this point in the 2014 season Customs and Border Protection has inspected approximately 1600 vessels and found four vessels in US ports with positive AGM egg masses – all from Japanese ports of origin. The Japanese inspection companies have had removed adult moths or egg masses from 82 ships in 44 different Japanese ports during pre-departure procedures. The success rate of the inspection companies in Japan, for ships bound for North America, is over 99%." William Wesela, Asian Gypsy Moth Program Director, USDA APHIS PPQ.
Knowing that these egg masses are making it to North American ports, even if extremely rarely, underscores the high importance of looking for and reporting possible individual moths, egg cases, or infestations of any gypsy moths outside of the known infested area in Eastern US and Canada (official map here) – especially in Western port cities. Gypsy moths (of both the Asian and European types) can be and have been eradicated when found in isolated infestations, and the key to eradication is rapid detection of each isolated new gypsy moth population. While the Asian gypsy moth looks incredibly similar to the European gypsy moth, it is different because of two key aspects: the wider range of tree species it can destroy, and the female adult moths can fly (unlike the European gypsy moth, whose females are flightless). This makes detecting potential infestations of Asian gypsy moth incredibly important to the health of North American trees.
Russian official observing Asian gypsy moth trap with high local moth densities in Olga, Russia. Credit: USDA APHIS PPQ (ed. note: all the white specks are individual Asian gypsy moths)
One of the most important tenets of Don’t Move Firewood is to be proactive with precaution. We often get questions on our e-hotline like “Can I move some seasoned old firewood? Any bugs must be long gone, right?” and our response is always the same “No, please don’t, it might harbor pests like gypsy moths.” Gypsy moths, in particular, can infest firewood or lumber scraps regardless of how long the wood was aged– and their egg cases can look very much like an otherwise innocent little patch of mold.
Western North American port communities, especially those receiving a lot of shipments from Japan and Russia (such as Long Beach, Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver), need to include Asian gypsy moth in their forest pest outreach programs and materials. Teaching the public about the importance of looking for gypsy moths, and not moving firewood, is critical to finding pests like these early enough to launch a successful eradication program. Just because you don’t have a recorded quarantine does NOT mean that you might not have a small unknown infestation in your community.
Here are resources on the topics of Asian Gypsy Moth and European Gypsy Moth
- Asian Gypsy Moth fact sheet, USDA APHIS from April 2014
- Asian Gypsy Moth official USDA APHIS information page
- Short public education video on European gypsy moth: well suited to be used in Asian gypsy moth education, with a brief caveat or discussion on species differences
- Don’t Move Firewood’s Gallery of Pests page on Asian Gypsy Moth
- US Customs and Border Protection news release on Asian Gypsy Moth interception, 2013
- Your Move Gypsy Moth Free, European gypsy moth educational website from HungryPests, an initiative of USDA-APHIS
- Map of European gypsy moth quarantine for North America