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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


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter Moth News Update – December 19th, 2012
This is an official non-VSR publication
“Your moths are a pain in the **s”

“Seen any moths lately?”

– charming icebreaker/conversation topic to be used when you are in town, 

have nothing else to say, but plenty of time to listen.


Fun Winter Moth game- count the asterisks (*) in this non-VSR.

Bonus level 2 challenge- Now try to count the asterisks (*) by 10s.


Apology - Our intentions were to stop typing this when winter moths weren’t being seen in town anymore. Well, it’s the 18th and I am still typing. There you have it. Now it’s the 19th. I bet tomorrow will be the 20th. only the mayans and the estonians know after that....also, not many photos and way too many words. so it goes. "read 'em and weep" - frank

Table of contents – title, winter moth game, insincere apology/explanation, table of contents (what you are reading), “and we thought we were special”, what’s going on? With quotes, bands: questions, answers & comments, more quotes, a language warning, and then the thing about parasitic flies


winter moths in action.
she will get stuck on the band moments after they are done
classic. photo by Pam Johnson
“And we thought we were special…” – well, to toss this into the “not surprising file”, all the cool communities along coastal Maine are reporting winter moth activity. Portland, Brunswick, “they are all over bath”. MCHT sources on Mount Desert Island confirm winter moth being experienced in small numbers on the island. Remember, we are the trend setters here, they can never take away that we were “#2”!


What’s been going on? What are the winter moths up to? Subtitle-  the s**t’s really hit the fan!” – remember the ageless classic “Airplane”. Saw it recently,   hasn’t aged all that well?


Well anyway, Saturday December 1st was a b**t cold Saturday that featured a frozen session with the flying Santa at the school (ask any parent who was there – it was even “h**ka cold”). December 2nd-5th however, were warm days separated by warm evenings/nights . Possibly triggered by the December 1st b**t cold day followed by a warm stretch (it is hard to say), but clearly things were happening in town over this stretch. And they are continuing to be seen as of last evening, 12/18.


Quotes: “ it was like an erupting volcano”, Amanda “the glue that holds the school together” Wentworth when describing the December 2nd flight of  winter moth in her Pond Street neighborhood. Amanda was telling of a local apple tree with so many moths coming out of its crotch (apparently crotches are another habitat favorite for the moths). The moths were so thick that Amanda envisioned opening her way thru them like pulling opening curtains at a window. Creepy.

She added… “They followed me back to my house and the next morning there was 50 dead around my car”. Creepy stalkers (as opposed to uncreepy stalkers) now that’s the worst!


It was like a snowstorm” Marjorie Stratton, town manager and snow expert, talking about her drive thru Skin Hill on Dec. 3rd at dusk.  


“they kept flying into the house every time I went outside”- Fire Chief Marc Candage’s who apparently doesn’t like moths in his house. Don’t give him moths for Christmas!


And the winner of the best winter moth quote - “Your moths are a pain in the **s” – Angie at the Friend (great place to get beverage refreshments, ice cream and other things), who apparently doesn’t like my moths in house. Nobody does really, and that’s ok.   


From the reports sent in, it looks like we’ve got moths that rise like zombies from the tomb/ground. They are creepy, crotch dwellers that have stalker tendencies, are both home invaders and snow impersonators and in general are smelly. I added the smelly part.


Male moths ( the ones flying around chasing Amanda Wentworth and invading homes) have been reported at outdoor lights and windows as far out of town as Old Harbor/Squid Row, Old Harbor Pond, Greasy Monkey Motor Works (great place to have car work done), Calderwood Neck and the dump area. This just in – North Haven reports winter moths. It should be noted that only male moths have been observed in these areas. Since they have usable wings they could have flown, been blown (you know males) by the wind, hitched a ride on a car, a beard or a Zumba instructor to get to those locations. In reality (you know that place) the distribution of the flightless females (that can lay up to 150 eggs on a single tree) are what we are concerned with and they have not been observed flying in areas mentioned above, mostly cuz they can’t fly. Would be good to know how long a male winter moth they might live after breeding or might travel by wind, beard or car. Would be good to know a lot of things.

this band is one of the fuller ones.

So how can we find out about female winter moths? Thank you for asking –the only way is to look at your bands and see what you’ve caught. If you “ain’t gotst no bands”, then look for caterpillars in May. Without the bands it takes a much more focused effort to find females. Anyway – How ‘bout those bands?


Bands – “those suckers have really filled up!” – Skip Thompson, weekend band observer and steward mentor.


I’m sure folks have seen the bands around town, and hopefully folk have been even just mildly glancing at what’s been caught in them.  


Banding questions/comments –why are we doing this again? – translation- why do we hate these things again? From “Pete”


Well “pete”, (if it is really “pete” or “h*****t” even!), unchecked and unsupervised Winter Moth over time (years people, we are talking years) can have a devastating effect on hardwood trees, like kill them all. Like all of the ones in town. Late next May Winter moth Caterpillars will hatch out of eggs that are being laid as we speak and quickly defoliate (as in - eat every “p******g” leaf on a tree) trees and shrubs as their new buds are just opening up. Stuffed, they will then pupate in the ground until late fall. Most trees can pump out another set of leafs for the season, but even a healthy tree can double its leaf output for so long before it can’t. And when it can’t, it has no more food and starves.


Attitude – I did it (the tree banding) to be PC, to be cool…all I wanted was to be cool….. There should be a name for it, but there is none at this time. But yes, many are afflicted with the need to be considered a good enough neighbor, a neighbor that mows their lawn, weeds their shrubs and goes that extra effort to band their trees.  Each and every effort to contain the winter moth is important if for nothing more than the sake of the individual tree that is banded, sprayed or whatever. And whatever motivates you to act – even to be cool or well-loved – it’s important to act. Think of it this way…


Let’s say being a good neighbor you caught ten females in a band on your tree this month. In some regards what you’ve really caught is the potential of 1500 eggs – 150 eggs laid for each female. Now, for arguments sake let’s say that for every 150 eggs laid, 100 eggs survive to hatch. We’re then at - with our 10 female example – 1000 eggs, and let’s say half are male and half are female (we clearly don’t know this as a fact at all) giving us 500 males and 500 females. Not considering loss and recruitment factors, we are growing exponentially in population here. We’ve gone from 10 females to 500 in a year.  
count the females. i dare you
count by 3s, i dare you

The band in this photo has at least 20-30 females in this small section captured. Gets a little hard to tell gender when wings start falling off, but there were easily hundreds of females caught in this band total. Let’s be conservative (cuz that’s the way we count) and say 250 females on this band. Twas the same look for the other bands in this yard, let’s say 8 bands.


Two things to note in this situation – first –  8 x 250 are 2000 females that didn’t get to lay eggs. Again, and purposefully redundant, that’s 2000 females caught that each would have laid roughly 100 eggs that survive to hatch (conservative number probably). That’s 200,000 eggs or so blocked from being laid.  Or a 100,000 females that would have hatched next spring.  And that’s one yard. You can’t tell me that’s not an important effort. Even if it’s only as little victory for those trees.


Second- thing to note- if it’s 250 females caught in a band (not considering recruitment and dispersal) you could estimate that roughly (and possibly) 500 eggs were laid on the tree the year before and survived til hatching. 500 hatched eggs can be the result of 5 females (with estimates of 100 hatching eggs per female – a number we admittedly made up but are using as a reference).


What this means is that we went from 5 females to 250 females to possibly 100,000 females in three years –yikes! Every band counts in other words, no matter how off these numbers are from true reality – as opposed to false reality which is where Massachusetts has been for a while. And now they have 1000s of acres of dead trees. So it goes.  


And yet, what we are seeing was not unexpected (other than maybe the crotch habitat part) from the warnings from the “Mothophiles” that be. Charlene Donahue predicted a significant flight of winter moth from the caterpillar evidence she found on the island last spring. Which takes us to…


Quotes:  Holy s**t!, I’ve never seen anything like this before”. It may have been  predicted, but that doesn’t take away any of the shock of seeing a b**tl**d of .  everyone out here on the island though, because it is hard to fathom this many moths flying and not one person noting them at all at this time last year.  “No more c****y moths than usual“, and then we have all the moths this December! More a reminder of just how fast a population of insects can grow, because there is no way that everyone missed a flight like this last year, absolutely no way an occurrence like this went under everyone’s radar. It’s exponential as they say. We have never seen anything like this before out here, because it hasn’t been like this before.



Warning- included within this non VSR blog report is language and vocabulary that some readers might not be ready for. We here at the non-VSR tried – minimal effort for sure, but we did try – to remove the colorful language that the winter moths themselves have inspired but have come to the conclusion that there is simply no way to write this non-VSR thing without such words. In some cases such words were added to stories and quotes that were a little boring. Where appropriate, asterisks (*) have been placed to muffle the swear word’s effect/affect and to give the reader to the opportunity to play fill in the blanks (as opposed to “Phil n’ the blanks”) to figure out what word was being used. Probably should have posted this warning closer to the beginning.


Here’s s a translation of the asterisk words-

S**t     = scat

C****y = crummy

B**t    = boat

B**tL**d = boatload (sticking with the nautical theme)

**s      = “abs”, like the 6 – pack body part I have

h*****t = herbert. he'll understand...


‘Nuther question -  Why do you look at this winter moth things and in a way find it funny? Self imposed question. 2 part answer – 1. cuz there is an antidote. Believe it or not, there is a parasitic fly (have we been over this yet?) who’s introduction has proven to be successful in “controlling” historic winter moth outbreaks in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. (It should be noted that those introductions were done metrically). Anyway, it takes a while for this parasitic fly – which apparently only is parasitic on winter moth – to become established in an area. Apparently we are waiting for the fly to be established in MA first, which would then be easier to transplant up here to Maine. This may be old information, as things are happening fast as the winter moth is being observed up and down the coast. Anyway, here’s something someone sent out recently about the parasitic fly in Mass. If you thought I was long winded – get a load of this! …

 I just chatted with Joe Elkinton, U Mass at Here is a link to his lab website, if you go to it, you can click on “research” and it will take you to a nice easy-to read write up about his work on Wintermoth biocontrol (I copied and pasted part below).

I told him I was calling in response to questions that you had about the Winter Moth biocontrol effort and the possibility of congressional support to control the moth more aggressively. He knows of you, so feel free to contact him directly or let me know if you want me to follow up in any way.

Joe is the only one working on Winter Moth biocontrol. Because biocontrol with a species-specific tachinid fly was so successful in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, Joe began going to BC in 2005 when Winter Moth was discovered in MA in order to collect the tachinid flies there and bring them back to U Mass to work on them and test them for biocontrol in the Northeastern US. He feels that he is on the verge of a great success story. He has been releasing the flies since 2005, but until 2010 had never recovered any. In 2011 he recovered some flies from the 2010 releases, but very low numbers. Flies released in 2011 were recovered this year and he has not presented the results yet, but the recoveries were very high - they are getting about 30% parasitism. In Nova Scotia, they went from 0 % recovery for many years, to 30% one year and then 70% the following year, followed by a complete collapse of the Winter Moth population and permanent control. He is expecting to see Winter Moth populations collapse in the near future at sites where they have done releases.

This year he has 60,000 months in rearing, of which he expects 50% or 30,000 to survive the winter and be ready for release in May. He will release about 2,000 per site (need to release a decent number to have a minimum viable population for establishment). Hence, he will be able to release at about 10-15 sites . He already has commitments for several sites including 1 or 2 in Maine (north of Portland – no islands at this point). He wants to select sites that are optimal for establishment of the fly (the right site conditions, population density and distribution of the winter moth, and sites that are scattered to maximize coverage). He will finalize his site selections this spring following final field surveys.

He has received funding from USDA Forest Service Forest Health Protection through a special initiative. That funding runs out in July. He has also received support from APHIS (rearing support at their OTIS lab where the flies are currently being kept). That is the only involvement of any Federal Agency in the project or program at the present time. There is no federal mass-rearing lab or program.

He is very excited about the possibility of congressional support and a more aggressive control program for Winter Moth biocontrol. He is writing up a brief summary and can compile information and prepare briefing documents if you need them.

No one else is really working on Winter Moth. The Forest Service funded one grad student at UNH who worked on the impacts of Winter Moth on tree growth. Joe is the only one in the US working on biocontrol of Winter Moth.

Biological Control of Winter Moth in New England

Joe Elkinton - Dept. of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The winter moth, Operophtera brumata, originally from Europe, invaded eastern Massachusetts more than a decade ago and has caused widespread defoliation of many deciduous tree species ever since. The infestation has spread to Rhode Island and is expanding westward in Massachusetts. Invasions of winter moth have occurred at other sites in North America, namely Nova Scotia in the 1950s and in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. In each case, a decade-long outbreak was successfully and permanently controlled by the introduction of a parasitic fly from Europe named Cyzenis albicans. This fly is one of several natural enemies that attack European winter moth and keep it from being a pest in its native region. In Nova Scotia, C. albicans was first released in 1954. High levels of parasitism did not occur until 1961, but after that winter moth retreated to low density, where it has remained ever since. A great advantage of C. albicans is that it is highly specialized on winter moth, so it will not spread to other species and its numbers will decline once it controls winter moth. The fly focuses its attention on winter moth

attracted to humans or our homes and buildings, so the only impact that people will notice is the decline in damage caused by winter moth.

Because C. albicans was so successful in controlling winter moth in Nova Scotia and the Pacific Northwest, it was natural for us to introduce it here in New England. A research team led by Joe Elkinton at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst has been doing that since 2005 using flies that he and his colleagues collected in British Columbia. We achieved an important milestone in this effort in 2010. For the first time in six years, we have concrete evidence that we have now successfully established C. albicans at five of six release sites. We have recovered winter moth larvae parasitized by these flies at sites in the Massachusetts towns of Seekonk, Hingham, Falmouth, Wenham and Wellesley. These were sites where we had not released C. albicans for the previous one to three years. Thus, the flies we recovered there must have successfully over-wintered and reproduced.. We conducted DNA tests to prove that the flies we recovered were identical to the ones we released. Our experience now matches closely the Nova Scotia project, wherein the yearly releases began in 1954, but no recoveries at all were made until 1959 (Fig 2). Previous experience in Nova Scotia or British Columbia suggests that the levels of parasitism should now build rapidly over the next few years.


Until 2011 we released all of our flies at one or two sites each year and have done repeated releases at the same sites in subsequent years. We did this we were trying to assure establishment of the fly. Now that we know that single releases with a few hundred flies can still result in establishment here in New England, we can spread the flies we have to more new sites and not release repeatedly at the same sites. Accordingly, we have released about 700 flies at each of nine new sites in 2011, including one site in Rhode Island. In addition, we have collected more C. albicans for release next year by collecting parasitized winter moth larvae in British Columbia last May. From this effort we have 61,000 winter moth pupae, which now reside in the USDA quarantine lab at Otis Airbase. Previous experience tells us that about 50% of these pupae will contain immature C. albicans. Assuming that we can successfully rear most of these to the adult stage next spring, we should have more flies to release than ever before in May 2012


Answer part #2 – I find it funny in a way because we, the royal we, are in this scenario because of our love, the royal our love, for manicured yards. The winter moth was brought out to the island not on purpose certainly, but in the soil of some nursery trees or shrubs (I like to think it was brought out more than once – not sure why I like that) that were planted in a yard or two or three. Someone trying to be a good neighbor or have a shrub they really like to live in their yard here on Vinalhaven. A completely pure and innocent motive to enhance beauty of a yard or the island and now we have gagillions of moths. That I think is comical. And classic. Or core. Choose your own word here. And that is where we leave you, until next time….
moths are lame compared to otters


 Remain vigilant!
next time - back to otter photos!