One European gypsy moth was caught in Bellingham this summer in a statewide trapping effort to fend off the non-native pest, which is a voracious eater of more than 500 species of trees and vegetation when in its caterpillar form.
The moth trapped in the Lake Whatcom area was among the 27 caught in five counties, according to the Washington Department of Agriculture. The statewide total was much higher than the lone moth found in 2013, and it equaled the number found in 2012.
It was the first time a gypsy moth has been trapped in Whatcom County since 2009, when one was caught.
“A single catch means we’ll watch the area in the next year,” said Mike Louisell, spokesman for the Washington Department of Agriculture, in an interview on Monday, Oct. 27.
Still, one trapped moth isn’t a huge concern because it means there’s little chance of a reproducing population.
“The risk is very, very low in Whatcom County this year,” Louisell said. “What we’ll do as a response to the catch at Lake Whatcom is to increase trapping next summer there with between 75 and 100 traps.”
This year, 16 moths were found in Yacolt, which is about 20 miles northeast of Vancouver; six in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and single moths at two parks, all in Seattle; and one moth each in Neah Bay, Port Townsend and Lake Whatcom.
All were European gypsy moths.
Asian gypsy moth females are of greater concern because they can fly and cover up to 12 miles, making their detection more difficult.
Department of Agriculture crews put up 20,000 small, tent-shaped traps in June — about 1,000 of them in Whatcom County — to capture European and Asian gypsy moths, which can destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of trees. The traps are for male gypsy moths, which are lured there by the scent of what they think is a female moth.
While there have been periods of gypsy moth infestation in Washington state, no permanent reproducing population has taken hold.
The invasive pests — called the worst forest pest ever to be brought into the U.S. — defoliate millions of acres and cause tens of millions of dollars in damage each year in the East and Midwest.