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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


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Welcome to the winter moth action update – May 12th, 2013
Not a vsr but still still brought to you by VLT, MCHT, & TFWM
“all I wanted was a cup of coffee,
and I left being told I was harsh”


This is an update as to where “we” (the royal “we”) as an island are as far as winter moth and management for the moth goes. This non-VSR originally was broken down into three parts – (1) The visit, (2) The verdict, (3) the news (which in itself is broken into 2 parts). But so much has been happened, and I don’t want to give away the ending -this has not a “pick me up” non-VSR to write- but let me just say that things haven’t gotten any better. So it goes, and here we go –


But let’s start with an emphasis and a warning– first the emphasis –and it seems like it should be understood by now– but plants should not be moved from town to other parts of the island. It should be assumed that every hardwood sapling, tree or shrub in town has winter moth caterpillars on them. Transporting plants from town is essentially planting winter moth around the island. The rest of the island doesn’t want winter moth. So don’t move plants. Sounds simple, right? Sometimes it can be hard for some folk and sometimes we make poor decisions. – but we can’t emphasize this point enough – “plants in town are contaminated, leave ‘em there gosh daminated”.


here's charlene , you may recognize her
as "Cyclops" from the X-men
Warning – there are a lot of words below; this was supposed to be a quickie, but sometimes the lengths we go to even surprise ourselves. Unfortunately, when the words are put together they combine to make this the one of the least positive posts posted where posts go on this blog. And there is some hideously censored fowl language (and I ain’t talking “quack”), but these stories need to be told, and if this were a scratch and sniff blog you’d be smelling something fowl by now – and it wasn’t me!


Anyway - The Visit(5/1) Well, we had our annual “Winter moth check-up” also known as the Operophtera brumata examon this fine Wednesday morning – Charlene Donahue (state entomologist and winter moth authority) came out with her Cyclops goggles to take a closer look at our springtime swelling of local buds (with the buds permission of course). Charlene, Pam Johnson and I visited several sites in town where winter moth activity was noted as “high” last year – focusing on an area we (the royal “we”) call the “brumata triangle” (the sands to high street/skin hill to pond street –highly contaminated).
this is a tiny caterpillar - photo by Pam Johnson


And so we were looking for tiny caterpillars – about the size of something really, really tiny. It’s the caterpillars that have just hatched are freakin’ tiny. But with space age, robotic goggles the tiny dudes get all big. And the caterpillars are getting bigger as well – 5 molts before they are ready to pupate. That’s huge!

you can kind of see silk around this bud.
photo by pam johnson

We were also looking (and you can too!) for strands of silk lightly waving in the breeze from buds. What’s up with the silk you ask? Good question – winter moth caterpillars will extend a loop or so of silk, extend it into the wind and then get a free ride in an action referred to as “ballooning”. Long stands of silk could be seen easily where caterpillars had ridden the wind waves to closer access to fresh tasty buds.  


trees were marked so charlene could find them
The visit was successful (in a few ways) in that Charlene made it out, she found caterpillars, and that she took samples back to the lab. You couldn’t ask for a more productive visit – the necessary steps were been taken/made – not skipped – lining us up for the parasitic flies! Really the only true heroes in the winter moth story…..


The point of the survey/yearly exam (turn and cough) was to see if we have enough moths to justify releasing these parasitic flies that are the answer to all our fears. The flies are the natural predators from Europe of the winter moth, and have been introduced in both British Columbia and Nova Scotia with no mention (nothing mentioned, huh?) of side effects on other plants or animals or most importantly – fungus or slime molds. Apparently Charlene has a permit to release the flies out here, but only if we have enough caterpillars/moth individuals for the flies to be able to establish themselves. And so we looked…..  


the clouds looked cool that day
And so….The Verdict – Survey Says… Yep, we got ‘em. And loads of them at that. Trees that were banded had just as many caterpillars as those unbanded. Apparently the ballooning is an effective method of dispersal. Charlene explained that it was consistent with what she’d seen in Harpswell and other hotspots along the coast – the caterpillars seemed to balloon as soon as they hatched from the egg. How much control a caterpillar has on a silken “balloon” is debatable (I bet it’s got none control!!!!).


And so the verdict was/is – that we have enough caterpillars to justify the releasing of a parasitic fly (once again – the hero in this whole saga is a fly!!!!! So cool). Congratulations everybody! High fives all around – we’ve got moths! And now for some shit*y news…..


#1) – we have enough caterpillars to justify parasitic flies. There is no two ways about it, this is not good. This is not new news.


#2) –  and now for the even shit*ier news  we don’t get any flies. Yep. We qualify, but won’t testify about seeing any parasitic flies being released this spring – or the next one (2014) most likely. (Well, that sucks)


Why are we not getting flies? Because there just ain’t that many flies to be had. There is one lab in Massachusettes (or however its spelled) that raises these little buggers – but first the flies have to be caught in from British Columbia (Canadians – need I say more), raised by wolves and buddhas in the Rockies, and from there it’s a long labor intensive process and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, this one lab in Mass has had its federal funding cut and thusly has little to no flies to spare. The state of Maine however – thru the generosity of that one lab in Mass and a series of minor miracles was able to get enough flies this spring to release in two locations – and it was decided that Harpswell and Cape Elizabeth would be the locations. It was explained in an email sent to the vinalhaven winter moth group – not an official group – there is no secret handshake or anything like that….


Here’s the official word from Charlene…

 I am sorry to tell you that at this point Maine is receiving enough flies for two release locations. Although Vinalhaven has winter moth in sufficient numbers to warrant a biocontrol effort the flies are not available. Biologically it makes more sense to release them on the mainland first where they can affect a larger geographic area.

Hopefully in future years we can bring the flies to Vinalhaven. Thank you for your support in pursuing a solution to the winter moth problem and I will continue to work with you on it. It just will not be this year.

-Charlene Donahue, maine state entomologist

And yes, what Charlene is saying here is absolutely true. With limited resources mainland sites along the coast  make the most sense for establishing the flies in Maine (the moth has been seen thru mid-coast regions for sure). Potentially and eventually flies might be raised in Maine as stocks released this week take hold and can be manipulated – we are all about the manipulation but this further down the line, like a bunch of years. We don’t have time for that now.

And all that said, it still sucks for the hardwoods in town.

So now what? For now sending letters to Chellie Pingree with the general message – “we want that damn fly!” or something along those lines – is a course where our voices and displeasures can be heard/vented.  Tell your friends to write as well. It can mean a lot. If you don’t have any friends then tell someone of the street. And then be nice to them, and maybe you can have some friends

Here’s an example letter to Chellie:
Dear Chellie Pingree
We need that damn fly!
Yours truly,
Your name here. Vinalhaven maine

It’s just that simple.
Here’s Chellie’s digits, don’t forget to mention that North Haven has winter moth too!

Chellie pingree  - Portland Office –                                                                         
 2 Portland Fish Pier,                                                                    
 Suite 304, Portland, ME 04101                                                                                
 Phone (207) 774-5019                                                                                        
Toll Free 1-888-862-6500 Fax (207) 871-0720

Call, email, fax, swim to chellie, tell her in sign language that we need that damn fly! These are the kind of efforts that never hurt. How much they help is debatable.

Also, while you’ve got your pens out – drop a line to Patti Hirami (you remember little Patti Hirami who only wore jammies!) down in Virginia. Patti’s office dishes out the funds for labs, such as the one in Mass. We either need more labs making these flies (you know what I mean) or more flies being pumped out by this lab – Joe Elkington is the guy behind the lab, But he’s not in control of his funding. Wouldn’t that be cool, to be in control of your own funding. Anyway…


Patti Hirami

Acting Director, Forest Health Protection

U.S. Forest Service/Washington Office

1621 N. Kent St Rm 711

Arlington, VA 22209-2137

Desk: 703.605.5340

Cell: 202.384.7315

 Send some letters – it always makes you feel good. If you haven’t sent a letter in a while please remember that you don’t have to lick stamps anymore they come with their own glue – non hallucinogenic from what I’m told – so no “licky-licky”.