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The Vinalhaven Sightings Report is organized and edited by Kirk Gentalen on behalf of Vinalhaven Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Out and about on Vinalhaven, MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen reports on what he and others have seen in their travels. Contributions of stories and photos are welcome, and can be sent to


Friday, November 23, 2012

Winter Moth Action Update – November 23rd, 2012

Not a VSR, but still Brought to you by the VLT and MCHT

They’re here!!!!!!
(remember that dumb movie “poltergeist”? you know, the one with the cute little girl who gets sucked into a TV by angry spirits. I’m sure you’re glad I brought that up).


still life of winter moths in tanglefoot
photo by Pam Johnson
Anyway, now is the time apparently. Possibly triggered by the cold spell earlier in the week, possibly just doing what horny insects do, our local Winter Moths are on the prowl - rising up from the ground like evil spirits that are pissed that a housing development was put on their graves. (perfect thought to end a paragraph with)


And so they have already eaten (way back in May) and now sex is on their minds, or on their pheromone receptors. Once they hook up (probably a ton of this kind of “action” has been going on the last few nights in town) the females are gearing to lay some eggs and die. The males of course have provided (sexually) what they provide (kinda gross, kinda gooey) and are officially dead or dying. Do winter moths go to Nirvana? Doubt it, but it does smell like teen spirit.


The adult winter moth was first reported by (the lovely) Amy palmer and her “vital signs” club at the middle school. Here’s a link to their posting on Winter Moths, and subsequent confirmation of species by state entomologist Charlene Donahue…


closer look - not a pretty sight
photo by Pam Johnson
What to do, what to do (part 1)... – “if you have bands” - If you are someone who has those sticky bands up on their trees, get off your lazy butt (or send your spouse/partner/servant), get outside and give those bands a look. Most likely you’ll say “yup, got ‘em”, (which should be said with the most unimpressed, deepest southern drawl you can muster). If your bands are filling up (which obviously depends on the extent of your local infestation) you may want to think about getting another band up as females that erupt down the line can use the ol’ “moth carcass bridge” to cross the tanglefoot and “get it going” further up in your tree.  Hopefully we are far from the kind of decision time. Time will tell just how many will be rising and how long this will go on for.



A note or two on those flightless females- vocabulary time!

Look close at the photos – you’ll see male moths with wings (show offs) and females moths without wings (“who needs ‘em anyway”). Alright, the females aren’t truly wingless; instead they have little stubby wings that are completely useless for flying, which is traditionally what wings are used for (or for making crappy music back in the 1970s).

nice wings
photo by Pam Johnson

The female wings are referred to as “vestigial” which means “occurring or persisting as a rudimentary or degenerate structure” (thank you free online dictionary). What this means is that somewhere back in time an ancestor that eventually evolved into Winter Moths (and likely other moth species) had wings that did the flying thing, but for whatever survival reason they survived in greater by going flightless (or at least by having the females go flightless). Could be a reproductive strategy - it’s easier to find those females when they can’t fly and females can be assured to lay eggs on the right kind of – but why is really not important right now. Anyway, over time more of the moths stopped flying, reproduced and survived successfully (as opposed to surviving unsuccessfully), so the genes for vestigial wings were passed on and the wings on the females got smaller and smaller. (They would/will likely eventually disappear unless they are still being used for another reason – like giving the males something to hold onto during mating (this is a made up example but gives you a feel of where my brain is)). This vestigial wing strategy has obviously worked for the winter moth, and is a reason (one among many) why they have been so successful as a species. It is also the reason why the tanglefoot bands work, cuz if the females could fly (and thusly we couldn’t catch’ em) we would be screwed – royally if not partially.
 vestigial's finest
photo by Pam Johnson


It should be noted that “vestigialness” (made up word) in the natural world is a common example of evolution. Whales have those vestigial legs from when their ancestors walked, snakes have those pelvic bones from back in the day and some people have vestigial brains from when they could think (for some it was many ancestors ago). Anyway, the point here is without vestigial evolution the bands wouldn’t work. So thank god for evolution (I’ve always wanted to write that), or else there’d be egg laying all over the place.


What to do, what to do…(part 2) if you don’t have bands but neighbors do, or you feel you might be in a vulnerable location.  Take a peek at your neighbors bands, if they are loaded with moths, well, you probably have them too, or will get them soon – like next May when the caterpillars are everywhere. Take a look underneath your hardwoods (trees that is), if you see moth carcasses take a closer look for the females with no wings. If you are concerned – it may not be too late to band and catch at least some of the winter moths in your yard – check the contacts and numbers below. Each female winter moth can lay up to 150 eggs on your tree, so catching even a few of them can cut down the egg potential by like a gagillion (my math may be a little off here, but you get the point). If you see a lot of carcasses under your trees you may want to get in touch with some of the folk about when and how to get your tree oiled to suffocate the winter moth eggs already laid. Those numbers again are


Ethan Hall (207) 390 – 0119


or James Rigsby (207) 975 - 6491


You can also contact Marjorie Stratton at the town office


207-863-2042, with sightings or questions.



Not sure if they both Ethan and James have applicator licenses, but they would be the ones to ask about that.


You can almost smell the squished females now
photo by Pam Johnson
What to do, what to do (part 3)…you go and see female moths climbing up trees that aren’t banded. Pam Johnson mentioned finding some females climbing unbanded trees in her yard. She examined them closely, and then took action. Straight from the email of Pam Johnson – “They (the females) are loaded with green eggs and there is a distinct odor when you squish them...not to mention the great pleasure in doing so!” that smell might be the teen spirit mentioned above, and that pleasure of squishing moths – priceless. Pam didn't mention is there was a popping sound with said squishing


And in conclusion, that’s where we are at. The adults are here and so it’s time to see how your bands are performing. A big thanks goes out to Pam Johnson for sending in the photos of her (and Ed’s) bands. And for the quote about squishing, we just don’t get enough of those.
We will update as things are needed to be updated. Regular VSR on the 1st or so. Remain vigilant!