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Kitsap trappers on hunt for destructive gypsy moths

Washington State Department of Agriculture Trapping Coordinator Mark Church inspects a gypsy moth trap. There are more than 750 set up throughout Kitsap County. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Washington State Department of Agriculture Trapping Coordinator Mark Church inspects a gypsy moth trap. There are more than 750 set up throughout Kitsap County.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

More than 750 traps set up throughout Kitsap County.

That little green tent-looking box stapled to the neighborhood tree is there for a reason: to catch gypsy moths.

In June, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) launched its annual gypsy moth summer trapping program, posting about 23,000 traps state-wide including more than 750 in the foliage of Kitsap County, where they’ll remain until September.

Equipped with female-scented pheromone to lure male moths, the traps are lined with glue to prevent takers from escaping. They are odorless to humans and don’t use insecticides or toxins.

There are two types of gypsy moths — the European gypsy moth and the Asian gypsy moth — and both are capable of destroying mass amounts of foliage.

In its caterpillar form, the pest attacks more than 500 species of trees and shrubs, and last summer, they destroyed more than one million acres of trees in the United States, according to WSDA officials.

Trapping coordinator Mark Church said Wednesday that no gypsy moths have been captured in Kitsap County since the traps were set, a positive sign.

“The fewer, the better,” he said.

Church, however, said he believes there are gypsy moths to be found. Last year, a “large capture” in Wauna, just south of Kitsap’s border, accounted for nine moths in a one square-mile radius.

“They are out there, we just have to find them,” he said.

And while nine seems like a small amount, Church said one gypsy moth alone, especially a female Asian gypsy moth in its caterpillar form, can harm acres of foliage.

Female Asian gypsy caterpillars, unlike their European counterparts, can fly and are more aggressive eaters, feeding on evergreen trees in addition to deciduous trees. European gypsy caterpillars feed only on deciduous trees.

The ability to fly, Church said, allows Asian gypsy moths to spread infestations faster and over larger areas.

“One female can lay up 1,000 eggs in a cluster the size of a quarter,” Church said, explaining how egg clusters are often found on patio furniture, auto tires, fire wood, birdhouses and others.

While the moth is permanently established in 19 states across the country, it has yet to establish a base in Washington state.

If multiple catches are made in an area over two years or other evidence of gypsy moth activity is noted, an eradication treatment in the area may occur the following spring, WSDA said.

“We’re hard at work,” Church said. “We want to identify infestations when they’re small and then eradicate them. We want to keep Washington the Evergreen State.”

Gypsy moths live a 12-month life cycle and are 2-3 inches long in their caterpillar form. In the moth form, females are white with a wingspan of about 2 inches. Males have mottled brown markings and wingspans of about 1 1/2 inches, according to WSDA.

King County is the most heavily trapped county in the state with 5,500 traps, according to WSDA, while Kitsap’s 750-plus rank 10th.

Traps have been set in various locations including west of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor near the intersection of Olympic View Road N.W. and N.W. Sherman Hill Road, East of Bangor near the intersection of Sherman Hill Road and Highway 3 and south of Bremerton Airport near the intersection of Highway 3 and Lake Flora Road due to past gypsy moth activity.

For information, contact WSDA at (800) 443-6684 or visit www.agr.wa.gov and click on “gypsy moth.”

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