THE RETURN OF MOTHRA

Feb 14, 2016: Recently, an observant reader pointed out that in my limited list of insect supervillains I had forgotten one, Mothra! How could I have forgotten the immortal early 60's Japanese monster film in which a giant moth, accompanied by her (Mothra was also a mother) two fairy handlers called the Twins, battles Godzilla. Silks webs versus atomic breath, you don't see that kind of imagination in today's monster movies, by cracky.

Thank you observant reader and how prescient . . . for Mothra has returned!! . . . to the Pacific Northwest, albeit in a more diminutive form. The Asian gypsy moth, whose larvae can dine on the leaves of over 600 species of leaves and shrubs, was found in the Portland Metro area last year in monitoring traps set up. Though it has not made any significant incursions into the US yet , it's potential to wreak havoc is great. Even a small outbreak might cause quarantines of Oregonian timber and nursery stock which would be a big economic owie.

Only seven were trapped but those are just indicators. A single gypsy moth female lays an egg mass that AGM egg massAGM egg masscan contain between several hundred to a thousand eggs. Do the math and it doesn't take long for the population to build. The Oregon Dept.of Agriculture is proposing spraying parts of Forest Park and North Portland this spring with a biological pesticide called Btk, short for Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki. Its a bacteria that attacks the gut of the gypsy moth larvae (It's the larvae that does the defoliation damage) causing them to stop feeding and die. Btk is selective and only kills a narrow range of moth species larvae.

Spraying anything, particularly aerial spraying as this will be, will surely cause a tsunami of environmental concerns, little of which, in my humble opinion, will be warranted. One can access information on Btk from Oregon State Health Authority at:
https://public.health.oregon.gov/HealthyEnvironments/HealthyNeighborhood...

I feel like Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now". You remember the scene where you just see the silhouette AGM larvaeAGM larvaeof his rather large body in the dark of his jungle hut and he's whispering "the horror, the horror, the horror"? I have experienced "the horror" of the Asian gypsy moth's (AGM) close cousin, the European gypsy moth (GM) , which has been ravaging the forests of the Northeast and upper Mid-West since it was first introduced to North America in 1869. As a kid growing up in upstate New York I remember hearing the pitter patter of raindrops on our roof one summer evening, except they weren't raindrops, they were frass (poop) of thousands of gypsy moths in the tree canopies overhead. The next morning the green leafy forest that was our backyard was a skeletal forest. Just the midrib and veins of the leaves were left behind. Oh, the Horror.

Blimp control for GMBlimp control for GMGM outbreaks are cyclical. Every 6-7 years the Horror returns and then it disappears. It actually doesn't disappear, the population crashes due to diseases. Before Bt was around to spray, one of the earlier biological controls were NPV, a type of virus that occurred naturally within GM. Before that, there was the non-biological control DDT, and we all know about that story. Tens of millions of dollars in control efforts later and we still have GM.

The common name of " gypsy moth" is at first odd when you consider that the female adults can't fly and the male adults can only fly a couple hundred yards. However the female has the habit of laying it's eggs EVERYWHERE. That means lawn furniture, car tires, the sides of campers, etc and then these get transported by unsuspecting humans to another location where they hatch. The Asian gypsy moth, though , is a super traveler. Not only does the female lay eggs similarly to GM but both male and female can fly . . . up to 30 miles.

Observant readers that you are, you're probably also wondering how we know the exact introduction date of the GM into North America. We not only know when, but we know who. Some schmuck, by the name of TrouvelotTrouvelotEtienne Trouvelot, brought the eggs from Europe and began experimenting with rearing them as a substitute of Asian silkworm. He thought if he could cross GM with the Asian silkworm he could create a hardy, cost effect silk producer. The problem was the two species are too dissimilar to cross. There not even in the same insect family. What a putz! Instead, some of the gypsy moths escaped and the story continues. To be fair, Trouvelot realized the problem and notified local authorities but nothing was done. He then decide it might be best to hightail it back to France.

Now here's a guy that as a result of a biological blunder created a legacy and a name that is remembered (by me and now by you, at least) for a century and a half. In my golden years, I think about what kind of legacy I will leave behind. How will I transform my name from insignificance to immortality? I could always grab a gun and occupy some federal building but I suspect that's fleeting. Trouvelot's name will go on long after the militia morons' are forgotten. Ah, but be an entomological or botanical terroist? Introduce something that will be a pain in our ecological #@!%'s for decades, now that is lasting infamy.

Kudzu, the vine that ate the South, I'm thinking. Nah, thats been tried before. African bees, yes! Nah, they don't survive our winters. Africanized Russian bees? - Nah, they haven't been bred yet. So while I'm thinking of something really bad I can introduce and achieve immortality and if you'd rather be part of the solution than introducing a problem, there are informational meetings being held the evening of February 17 and morning of February 20 in North Portland. You can find specific info at: tinyurl.com/ODAgypsymoth.

Well, I've got to head back to my barn, where I'm raising something really big and bad, that I can't tell you about.
If found, call me immediately!If found, call me immediately!

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