Gypsy Moth: Facts, Life Cycle, Damage and Control

Gypsy Moth: Facts, Life Cycle, Damage and Control

Just as trees begin to leaf out in the spring season, gypsy moth caterpillars are hard at work, eating those brand-new leaves.

As gypsy moths strip trees of their leaves, trees become weak and susceptible to other injuries.

When it comes to tree pests, the best thing we can do is learn more, then take proactive steps to control them. Here are all the gypsy moth facts you need!


Gypsy Moth Caterpillar: The Damage It Does and How to Control It (Even in Massachusetts in 2018) 

Where did the gypsy moth come from?

Originally from Europe and Asia, gypsy moths made their debut in the U.S. more than a century ago. In the late 1860s, Leopold Trouvelot transported a trove of moths to his Boston home.

Soon after, the first gypsy moth outbreak was around 1890.

How many gypsy moths are expected in Massachusetts in 2018?

As the birthplace of the U.S. gypsy moth outbreak, Massachusetts trees are especially affected by the insects.

The good news is that the moths are slowing down this year. The University of Massachusetts reported that nearly 90 percent of gypsy moths died last year. The rain in 2017 activated a native soil fungus that reduces the gypsy moth population.

But that doesn’t mean gypsy moths are gone for good. Defoliation is expected in Essex, Hampden, Hampshire, Norfolk, and Worcester Counties. But, Massachusetts trees won't experience the extreme rate of leaf loss they have in past years.

What's the life cycle of the gypsy moth?

Gypsy moths go through four stages.

  1. Adult moths lay eggs toward the end of summer.
  2. The following spring, usually around late April or early May, young caterpillars emerge. That’s when they begin feeding on all your new tree leaves!
  3. After eating your trees for about a month, the caterpillars rest in their pupal cases.
  4. Sometime during July or August, they emerge as white or brown-winged moths. They get ready to lay eggs, which starts the whole process over!

What kind of damage does the gypsy moth do?

Gypsy moth caterpillars partially or entirely strip trees of their leaves. They prefer oaks, especially white and chestnut. But they’ll also eat alder, aspen, basswood, birch, hawthorn and willow trees.

Then, because the tree is weak from the loss of its leaves, it becomes vulnerable to other problems.

“Like people, when [trees] get weak, they’re more susceptible to certain pests and diseases. The year of the drought, we lost a lot of trees or they were under stress," said Jim Doyle of Hartney Greymont, a Davey company in this Wicked Local Dedham story.

How can I control the gypsy moth?

The best advice? Be proactive. Here’s what to do:

  • If you have damaged, compromised, or beloved trees in your landscape, be prepared to treat those trees early if gypsy moth injury is expected. Talk to your arborist about applying a well-timed insecticide treatment. An ounce of prevention goes much further than no prevention at all.
  • Consider adding a tree band in late May. These trap gypsy moth caterpillars as they hike up and down your tree.
  • Fertilize your tree to improve its ability to recover from gypsy moth damage.
  • Water your tree on dry days in the summer to prevent any added stress from drought.

Ready to rid your tree of a gypsy moth infestation? Talk to your arborist about a plan.


  • The Tree Doctor July 9, 2018 >Hi Jessica, You have likely experienced an infestation of either winter moth or gypsy moth. Each species only has a single generation each year, so there will be no more caterpillars of these two species for the rest of this year, although they are likely to return next spring. The severity next year is dependent on several environmental and other factors that cannot be predicted accurately, so my best advice is to watch for reports from your local extension service going forward. I would recommend contacting a certified arborist and having them come out to take a look. They will be able to confirm this is the case and can prescribe a treatment plan accordingly. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that can help with hiring a certified arborist or reputable tree care company in your area: Best of luck to you! Here if you have any more questions, Jessica!
  • Jessica Rossi July 8, 2018 >Now that the caterpillars have turned into the moths what damage can now be expected? They’re frass has made opening our pool extremely difficult and expensive this year and they have nearly destroyed a lot of the plants in our gardens!
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