11. Gypsy Moths
Murder hornets may be getting all the attention, but gypsy moths are another invasive insect species causing a lot of damage by defoliating trees, disrupting wildlife, causing skin rashes, and costing cities, homeowners, and the timber industry millions of dollars. Today, we’re talking gypsy moths: why they’re so harmful and what we can do about it. With special guest Dr. Valerie Pasquarella: Earth & Environment Research Professor at Boston University.
When it comes to how individual actions can curb or escalate climate change, it can sometimes be hard to quantify. How much impact does driving to the grocery store versus walking do? Eating a plant-based burger instead of a beef burger? In the process of researching the impact of gypsy moths on North America, I was astounded on just how much an individual can change the balance of the environment.
When it comes to invasive species such as the gypsy moth, the blame can usually be traced down. For the Burmese python, the species most likely arrived in Florida due to the exotic pet trade, then escaping and wreaking havoc on the Everglades. The invasive Lionfish reached Atlantic waters due to purposeful dumping from home and commercial aquariums. What surprised me the most with the gypsy moth was that the actions of a single ignorant ameteur scientist and artist sparked an entire environmental disaster. The introduction of gypsy moth was actually motivated by capital gain, as Leopold Trouvelot thought he could produce silk from gypsy moth breeding.
While I don’t have the interest or ability to bring invasive species to the United States, this episode showed me that individual actions can completely change our environmental landscape. During Trovelot’s lifetime, the current devastating impact of gypsy moths is not something that he could’ve predicted. What habits and actions am I currently doing that could have an unforeseeable impact? What habits and actions can I partake in to make our world a livable place for future generations to come? I hope you enjoy this episode and I hope it sparks an internal dialogue for you as it did for me.
I’m not much of a biology person, so I was a little nervous going into this episode, but as it turns out, gypsy moths are a really really interesting issue. The fact that a tiny caterpillar that isn’t supposed to be here can go ahead and decimate an entire forest is astounding. I certainly did not know about gypsy moths going into this, and am so glad that I now know. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for hairy egg piles!
Dr. Pasquarella makes a really important point, which she actually iterated in more detail on the call which we always cut down for time. Controlling gypsy moth outbreaks requires people like her analyzing satellite images, people on the ground looking for larvae, people spraying, people checking their yards, etc. It takes a team of people of all different skillsets. That’s a lesson that I think applies to any and all environmental issues. The Sweaty Penguin’s goal is to bring together people of different political viewpoints to agree on what the problems are. Beyond that, solving the issues requires a wide array of skillsets.
Like some other topics we’ve covered, gypsy moths might feel far away or unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Just remember: the state of Washington declared a state of emergency over gypsy moths this year. And they keep having outbreaks year after year, worsening recently. Just knowing what gypsy moths are makes all the difference. If your car tires have an egg mass in them, being sure not to spread the egg mass all over town can quite literally affect the entire region’s ecosystem. After listening to this episode, even if you forget the ecological details, take the knowledge that these caterpillars are dangerous, and we all gotta do our best to keep an eye out.