Booming gypsy moth caterpillars defoliate West Michigan trees

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gypsy moths are on the rise and on the attack.

They have a big appetite in the spring and summer. 

Groundskeepers at Holland’s Pilgrim Home Cemetery noticed a gypsy moth infestation a year ago. They said caterpillars were destroying their European beech trees.

“Upon further inspection, we noticed we had caterpillars, gypsy moths, all over the place,” Holland Parks and Recreation Director Andy Kenyon said. “They just munch away on all the leaves and pretty soon there’s no leaves left.”

Kenyon said the insects, which are invasive, were defoliating several trees in the cemetery. He said workers acted quickly last spring and are still on guard now. They called on tree experts to spray for gypsy moths about three weeks ago.

“Within a few days, caterpillars rained down from the skies, and they exited the trees, and we did another treatment this spring just to get the ones we missed from last year,” Kenyon said.

Experts say gypsy moth population booms happen every seven to 10 years. The caterpillars feed on the tree leaves from the spring until the end of July.

Arborists said the population is on the rise right now in West Michigan.

“We’re getting reports now from Wyoming, Byron Center, Gun Lake, Kalamazoo and some of the lakeshore areas,” Scott VanWyk, an arborist at Bartlett Tree Services, said.

Arborists said the caterpillars can kill the tree they’re attacking and then spread to neighboring trees.

“It tends to be a neighborhood problem, not just this owner and that owner a mile away; it tends to be a neighborhood issue,” VanWyk said.

It’s an issue the Holland cemetery groundskeepers aren’t expecting to re-emerge, and they want residents to tackle their own infestations quickly to help prevent spread.

“As you can see behind me, the trees look beautiful,” Kenyon said.

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