To fight winter moth, parasitic flies to be released in Bath — Portland Press Herald

To fight winter moth, parasitic flies to be released in Bath

Adult Cyzenis albicans, the parasite of winter moth. (Courtesy Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry)

BATH — In order to fight an invasive species of moth, state scientists will be releasing a species of parasitic fly that will eat the pests from the inside out in Bath on Wednesday.

Winter moths have been defoliating plants between Kittery and Mount Desert Island in Maine since 2012. Their larvae feeds on trees such as oaks, maples, apples and blueberries, in early spring, and repeated infestations can cause trees to die.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry say tens of thousands of acres of oak trees have died in Massachusetts as a result. In Maine, oaks are dying in Cape Elizabeth because of the larvae.

Parasitic flies, however, have successfully reduced winter moth populations in several Massachusetts locations, however.

“The parasitic flies only attack winter moth and the adult flies are around for just a few weeks in May making it a good biocontrol agent,” according to a press release from the department. “They have been successfully used as a control strategy in Nova Scotia, parts of western Canada and the US, as well in southern New England.”

Entomologists at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Maine Forest Service will release the flies in the parking lot of the Grace Episcopal Church on Washington Street at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The winter moth. (Courtesy Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry)

The flies are in cocoons in a cage to be buried in the ground until spring. The flies will be released in early May.

Wednesday’s scheduled release is part of a larger release program, undertaken in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to control the winter moth across New England. Flies have been released in six other locations in south coastal Maine starting in 2013 and are starting to become established in Kittery, Cape Elizabeth and Vinalhaven.

According to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the fly will lay eggs on leaves eaten by winter moth caterpillars. The fly’s eggs will hatch inside the caterpillars, at which point the fly’s larvae consume the caterpillar from the inside out.

“The fly pupates inside the carcass of the caterpillar and, the following spring, emerges an adult fly to mate and begin the cycle again,” according to Mass. Audubon.

Fight Winter Moths Infestation with Tree Banding

It seems that even pest control can’t avoid a throwback to the 1980’s. If you’re old enough, you may remember the gypsy moth infestation across New England during the decade that had folks out in force tarring their trees to capture the caterpillars before they could lay their eggs and ultimately devastate the foliage. Fortunately, this technique has been modernized to be less taxing on the trees and easier to apply and remove: tree banding.

Is Spring the Only Time to Fight Winter Moths?

Many southern Maine towns, including Cape Elizabeth, see a phenomenon this time of year that many others can’t understand. Moths. More specifically, Winter Moths. This non-native invasive species settles into tall shade trees during late fall, are dormant throughout the winter, and then as the landscape awakens in spring, the little buggers eat the foliage of the trees before they can even bloom.

It can feel frustrating that treatment for Winter Moths is typically done in the spring, after the moths have been living in the trees for months. There is, however another treatment option available from Lucas Tree Experts that can help fight these invaders now.

How Tree Banding Stops Winter Moths

Tree banding is a pesticide-free option for customers facing an outbreak primarily of Winter Moths. Your trusted lawn, tree and shrub professional from Lucas Tree Experts will place a sticky band around the trunk of the tree in early to mid-November. What this bands does is prevent the female moths from crawling up the tree to lay their eggs. The moths get stuck on the band and eventually die. Depending on how bad an infestation is, this band will need to be monitored and replaced over the course of a month, as the band becomes full.

As folks become more and more aware of the environmental impacts of pest control, being proactive is smart strategy. A proactive approach often will lessen the need and demand for more intense treatments. Tree banding is a cost-effective, minimally invasive way to help combat winter moths without pesticides, however, it may not eradicate the infestation completely. Consulting the winter moth control experts at Lucas Tree can help you determine is this proactive approach will be effective for you.

Box Tree Moths ‘plague’ – What to do – (Updated 26/04/18)

2018 Update

Affected by the moth or caterpillar, don’t panic you’re in the right place to find out what to do & learn how it got here.

How did it get here?

Learn about the history and reasons behind how the pest has ended up in the UK.

Where is it?

A map updated with data from gardeners and enthusiast around the country will let you know if there is moth or caterpillar in your area and how bad it is.

What Can I Do?

Most importantly learn how to deal with and eliminate the hungry critters.

2017 Updates


  • The moth lays pale yellow eggs on the underside of box leaves
  • When the eggs hatch the greenish yellow caterpillars eats the leaves and produces a cobwebbing & a trail of pellets in it’s wake
  • After this destruction it becomes a pupae in a chysalis before emerging as a white semi-transparent moth
  • Pupae can survive over winter down to -30c
  • The season for Cydalima perspectalis is from late March to the end October
  • 1-3 life cycles of 6-8wks each per year depending on temperature
  • Preferred temperature 21-33c
  • Box moth can fly 10km/year
  • Box trees can survive being attacked as long as the larvae don’t eat the bark of the main stems
  • The caterpillars have no natural predators as they have toxins in them that taste bad to birds and other animals

Professional Spraying

Professional spraying can be done using pesticides such as DECIS (active ingredient: deltamethrin) which lasts for around 5-6 weeks and is in a stronger concentrations than is available to domestic gardeners (needs to be used with care around bees).

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Search Google for suitably qualified professional in your area.

Domestic Spraying

Biological Insecticide (least damaging to other wild life)

XenTari is a biological insecticide based on Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. Aizawai. It is sprayed on the leaves of the of the plants and works by ingestion. Once the caterpillar has eaten the sprayed leaves, the toxic proteins disrupt the insects gut causing it to stop eating within minutes and thus prevent further damage. The caterpillar will die after a couple of days. XenTari is safe to beneficial insects & is Bee-friendly.

Products based on Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. Aizawai are available online and used in Europe, Australia, Canada & the USA. Other sub species are used to treat other pests as it is a very targeted treatment. In some of these countries it is considered an organic spray.

Note: Currently Bt based products (like XenTari) are not registered for domestic use in the UK, they are available for use by professionals.

Chemical Insecticide (use with care around other plants & beneficial animals like bees)

Garden centres sell a BAYER garden product called PROVADO Ultimate Bug Killer, which is effective but requires constant repeat spraying.

Infestations can be treated with pyrethrum (considered to be organic)

  • Py Spray Garden Insect Killer
  • Bug Clear Gun for Fruit and Veg
  • Defenders Bug Killer
  • Growing Success Fruit & Veg Bug Killer
  • Growing Success Shrub & Flower Bug Killer

Or deltamethrin based products such as…

  • Bayer Provado Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer
  • Bayer Sprayday Greenfly Killer

Or lambda-cyhalothrin products such as…

  • Westland Resolva Bug Killer

If you search for this items on Google you will find garden centres and suppliers readily available. Note you will need to make sure you treat the affected area well to control the caterpillars and be careful not to spray whilst plants are flowering so you don’t affect bees and insects that are pollinating the plants.

Pheromone Traps

Pheromone traps are a good indicator of moth activity in your garden and also as a preventative measure. Depending on which trap you buy it will last between 6 weeks & 3 months per dose of pheromone. Some traps covers an area of 0.40h / just under an acre, whilst others cover 180 square meters (which is 7.5m radius around the trap). Given the variety of ranges covered it is important to read the information on the trap you buy and use the appropriate number for the area to be covered.

Winter moth: how to fight?

AUGUSTA State entomologists from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s (DACF) Bureau of Forestry have released parasitic flies in an effort to try and control and minimize the damage to trees and shrubs done by the winter moth. The release is in collaboration with Dr. Joseph Elkinton, University of Massachusetts professor of Entomology, and the effort is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USDA-FS).

Up to 2,000 parasitic flies (cyzenis albicans) were released late morning on Peaks Island Friday, May 15. Spring surveys of winter moth larvae indicate that Peaks Island has high enough levels of winter moth larvae to support release parasitic flies. Department professionals are checking to see if there are high enough levels of winter moth larvae to support additional releases at Two Lights State Park (Cape Elizabeth).

‘The use of this biocontrol agent is part of a long-term approach to limiting the damage caused by the winter moth,’ Maine Governor Paul R. LePage said. ‘Department entomologists are hard at work taking steps to protect our natural resource economy from invasive pests like the winter moth, which can also damage blueberry, apple and cranberry crops.’

Commissioner Walt Whitcomb highlighted the collaborative approach being taken between Maine, Massachusetts and the USDA-FS. ‘We thank USDA-FS, Dr. Elkington and the University of Massachusetts for collaborating with us on the timely release of these flies,’ said Whitcomb.

A citizen supported winter moth survey and trapping by the Maine Forest Service in December indicated winter moth could be found from Kittery to Bar Harbor. Unlike some of the other invasive insects on our doorstep, this one has a potential biocontrol agent that can hopefully control the insects spread and limit future damage. Department entomologists and volunteers will monitor the winter moth and fly populations over the next several years to see how the release is working.

The winter moth is the latest invasive insect to attack Maine forests, with defoliation of oak, apple, birch, maple and other hardwood trees and shrubs. It made its first appearance in Harpswell in 2012 on 400 acres. In 2013, there were over 5,000 acres of defoliation, primarily in Harpswell and Cape Elizabeth. Last year saw a bit of a reprieve after a cold December that slowed the moth mating and egg laying, but almost 2,000 acres of heavy defoliation were mapped along the coast. Winter surveys have detected winter moth from Kittery to Mount Desert Island.

People frequently ask, ‘Will the flies bother anything else (like people)?’ The answer is no. These flies were released in Nova Scotia in the 1960s, brought the winter moth population under control, and there have been no adverse effects in the intervening 50 years. Flies were also released in British Columbia again with no impacts on other insects or people. The flies are very closely tied to the winter moth life cycle and need winter moth to survive. There will always be some winter moth around now that they have become established in Maine, but hopefully the flies will do their job and bring the winter moth population under control in a few years.

It will take years before Maine will see the results of the biocontrol effort, as it takes time for the flies to become acclimated to a new location and build up their population. Once their numbers reach a high enough level, it will have a noticeable impact on the winter moth population. In the meantime people will see defoliation on hardwood trees and shrubs in May. It is hoped trees will not be too adversely affected before the parasite fly population catches up to the winter moth population and brings them into balance in Maine.

For more information on the winter moth and other invasive pests, visit

Cape Elizabeth steps up fight against winter moth devastation

Volunteers set out to band more than 150 trees in Fort Williams Park and Robinson Woods over the weekend.

CAPE ELIZABETH — The northern red oaks and other stately trees in Fort Williams Park are a pleasure to behold.

Lining the parade ground, circling the brick-paved Council Ring and dotting the Cliff Walk that overlooks Casco Bay, they provide color and shade in warmer months and marshal the park through leafless winters.

And they’re under attack by winter moths, like an increasing number of oak, maple, ash, elm and fruit trees across southern Maine. Cape Elizabeth is ground zero for the devastation, and the town is stepping up efforts to combat the insect that has already destroyed more than 300 acres of oak trees here.

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About 50 volunteers braved freezing winds Saturday morning to arm the park’s trees against the anticipated onslaught. Like clockwork, between Thanksgiving and the start of the new year, the insects will emerge from the ground when the temperature rises above freezing and begin their assault.

While the male moths are most noticeable, swarming in eerie clouds around porch lights and street lamps, the near-wingless and flightless female moths are the real culprits. They crawl up tree trunks and lay eggs that will hatch into larvae in the spring and gorge on new buds and leaves.

With long strips of polyester batting and wide, sticky arborist tape, the volunteers banded more than 100 trees in the park Saturday. Volunteers were to band another 50 trees in Robinson Woods on Sunday. Placed about 4 feet off the ground, the bands will trap the female moths during their climb and be removed in January.

“It’s not 100 percent effective,” Todd Robbins admitted Saturday while instructing volunteers. “We’re going to catch as many as we can.”

Banding is part of an integrated pest management plan that Robbins, the town’s tree warden, has developed to combat the winter moth problem. The town has tripled the budget to care for trees in parks and along roads – from $20,000 two years ago to $60,000 this year – recognizing that winter moths have exponentially increased demand for pest control, pruning, dead-tree removals and replacement plantings.

First identified here in 2011, winter moths are damaging and killing trees in coastal Maine communities from Kittery to Bar Harbor, according to the Maine Forest Service. An aerial survey last year found 300 acres of oak mortality in Cape Elizabeth – an area encompassing 2,000 to 3,000 dead trees – and the infestation has spread into South Portland and Scarborough.

Todd Robbins, at right, the Cape Elizabeth tree warden, explains to volunteers how to band the trees, before the helpers break off into groups at Fort Williams Park on Saturday.


Tell-tale signs of the moth’s impact were apparent throughout the three communities last spring and summer, when hungry caterpillars left otherwise hardy-looking trees with lacy canopies. In some cases, damage done in the spring was so drastic that trees immediately put out a second flush of leaves, diverting much-needed energy from the usual growth process.

Most trees can survive moderate winter moth infestations that destroy less than 50 percent of their foliage, Robbins said. Three or four years in a row with a second flush of leaves will kill a tree, especially under recent drought conditions.

Scott Akerman has seen winter moth damage in the trees around his house, so his purpose in volunteering Saturday was twofold.

“I figured I’d help out and learn what to do, then I’ll do my trees,” Akerman said. “All my neighbors want to do their trees, too.”

The small, light brown moths came to North America from Europe in the early 1900s. Infestations were seen first in Nova Scotia in the 1930s and then in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, according to the forest service. The moths arrived in Massachusetts in the early 2000s, spreading south into Rhode Island and north into Maine.

Entomologists believe the moths were brought to Maine when people transplanted perennial flowers and shrubs from infested gardens to the south. The spread continues in much the same way, hastened by climate change and opportunities built into the moth’s life cycle.

After the eggs hatch on warm spring days and the larvae feed on tree buds and young leaves, the small green caterpillars spin down to the ground and burrow into the soil, where they form cocoons and remain from June to November, waiting for the next mating season.

Consequently, the moths can be spread by gardeners who swap plants with friends or sell them at fundraisers, and through mulch made from contaminated leaves, lawn clippings and other garden debris. They also can be transported by cars, boats and other vehicles that happen to be where the caterpillars fall.


The forest service has taken steps to control and reduce winter moth infestations. Parasitoid flies have been released in recent years in Cape Elizabeth, Harpswell, Kittery Point, Vinalhaven and Peaks Island, in the hope of repeating successful moth population reductions achieved in Nova Scotia.

The flies, Cyzenis albicans, lay eggs on leaves that are eaten by winter moth caterpillars. The fly eggs hatch into maggots and lay dormant inside the caterpillars until late summer, when they eat the moth larvae as they pupate underground. It’s unclear how long it will take for the flies to have an effect on the local winter moth population, but it’s expected to take years.

In the meantime, Robbins recommends that residents band trees in the fall and apply horticultural oils in the spring to smother any larvae that might slip through the barriers. Further guidance is linked on the homepage of the town’s website,

A licensed arborist who is assistant property manager at Ram Island Farm, Robbins also suggests planting a variety of attractive, indigenous trees that aren’t susceptible to winter moths. They include hickory, black gum, northern catalpa, tulip poplar, black walnut, and American linden, beech, sycamore and sweetgum trees.

Robbins and other town officials hope that steps taken now will stave off further damage to the town’s trees, especially in Fort Williams Park, a 90-acre property that attracts about 1 million people annually to see Portland Head Light, the Children’s Garden and other features.

While trees in the park have been infested for a few years, there hasn’t been a second flush of leaves, Robbins said. Spending some time and money to protect the trees now could prevent costly tree loss in the future.

“The goal is to significantly reduce the effects of winter moth,” Robbins said.

Beating Winter’s Woes

If your mood is as cold and dark as your landscape, you’re in good company. But here’s how you can ease that seasonal slump.

Now that the Christmas tree is composting and radio stations have shelved that cheery holiday music until next winter, let’s get real with some rewriting: ‘Tis the season to be melancholy.

You know the feeling: You’re more tired these days, maybe anxious or moody. Cocooning with some leftover Christmas cookies or other sweet and high-carb fare sounds better than hanging with the crowd. Your sexual appetite may be on a diet, or even fasting. It’s harder to get out of bed, and when you do, your mood resembles the landscape you see — cold, dark, and nasty.

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That’s the problem: The gloom caused by Mother Nature each winter in much of the country is biologically felt to some degree by an estimated one in four of us — usually starting around October and then magically ending by April with spring’s thaw. For most people, it manifests as winter doldrums, the «I-can’t-wait-for-winter-to-end» feeling that produce mild but manageable sluggishness and food cravings. But about 11 million Americans have a more severe form of winter depression — seasonal affective disorder, the aptly acronymed SAD that is typically diagnosed after at least two consecutive years of more intense symptoms.

«While a person with winter doldrums may have difficulty waking up or getting out of bed at times, someone with seasonal affective disorder can’t get to work on time,» says Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Winter Depression Program at New York Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Medical Center. «With the doldrums, it’s in the norm to gain up to 5 or 6 pounds over the winter, but with full-blown SAD, weight gain can be far more than that.»

Either way, it stems from the same cause: Sensitivity to the lack of sunlight that results from winter’s «shorter» days and disrupts our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock. The degree of this sensitivity, and resulting winter depression severity, largely stems from some combination of other factors — your geography, genetics, and individual brain chemistry.

With SAD, the lack of sunlight causes the brain to work overtime producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body clock and sleep patterns and a hormone that has been linked to depression. That’s why all things considered, the farther north from the equator you live, the greater the risk you’ll have some degree of winter depression. Only about 1% of Florida residents have some winter-specific discomfort or depression, compared to about half of those living in uppermost parts of the U.S. or in southern Canada.


«The body clock takes its cue from sunlight, especially that in the morning. But as you get up into the northern-tier states, there’s a 4ВЅ hour delay in sunrise in mid-winter versus the summer»; in the middle portion of the U.S., there’s a two-hour difference,» Terman tells WebMD. «This difference is enough to affect circadian rhythm timing and throw the body clock out of sync.»

The solution is to get as much sunlight as possible. Light enters the eye, which activates a body clock system that is similar to what controls seasonal breeding and hibernation in animals, says psychiatrist Daniel F. Kripke, MD, who conducted the world’s first controlled study of bright light therapy for depression in 1981. This system is connected to the brain’s appetite hardwiring, which might explain why you may have more food cravings in winter.

«But getting enough natural sunlight can be difficult now in many parts of the country,» says Kripke, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. «When people travel to and come home from work or school, it’s dark outside because of the shorter days.»

And because it’s also cold, they’re less likely to venture outdoors and get direct sunlight exposure, which keeps the body clock in sync. «Standing by a window doesn’t do it,» Kripke tells WebMD. «It’s like why you use different camera settings when taking photographs outdoors and indoors. And with the angle and darkened glass of many car windshields, your retina doesn’t get enough sunlight while you’re driving, even when it’s sunny.»

Regular indoor lighting also has no effect, no matter how bright it is. To compensate, artificial «sunbox» lights with special fluorescent tubes that mimic the sun’s beneficial rays are available and are considered the go-to treatment for those with any level of winter depression. «You might think those with winter doldrums might need less exposure to bright light therapy than people with SAD, but both groups benefit from the same amount,» says Terman.

That’s about 30 minutes of exposure done first thing in the morning. «Timing is very important, and by administering it first thing in the morning, you keep your body clock on its springtime cycle during the winter, and that’s how the depressive symptoms are lifted.» These sunboxes can be placed on a desk or table while you eat breakfast or work.


Terman has also done research suggesting that ions in the air — those invisible particles that can help improve mood — also affect winter depression. When SAD patients were exposed to high levels of negative ions for 30 minutes, their depression eased after just a few weeks. «Natural concentrations of negative ions are highest at the seashore, by the pounding surf, or right after a spring thunderstorm,» he says. «That’s why many people report a spontaneous elevation in mood from being at the beach.» While commercially sold negative ionizers produce lower levels than what he used in his experiments, they may help some people.

Antidepressants are also beneficial, especially when used in conjunction with light therapy. «But my reading is that antidepressants by themselves are not as effective as light therapy by itself,» says Kripke. He notes in a 1998 study that light therapy brought relief to many patients within one week, while antidepressants took about eight weeks.

In addition to sunlight — or more specifically, the lack of it — the cold temperatures of this mean season may also play a role. «There is some evidence that people with a higher tolerance to cold tend to be less depressed than those who are more susceptible to cold,» says Charles Raison, MD, of Emory University’s Mind-Body Program and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at its medical school.

«We also know there’s a greater tendency toward depressive symptoms immediately following a viral illness,» he tells WebMD. «When you get a cold, your immune system is stirred up in a way that it’s a risk factor for depression.» And you’ll note, it is the cold and flu season.

So if you’ve got the winter blues — especially in a deep shade — here’s your excuse to cash in those frequent flyer miles: «Sometimes, something as simple as taking a week or two vacation to Florida or somewhere sunny during January or February can make a really big difference,» says Raison.


SOURCES: Michael Terman, PhD, director, Winter Depression Program, New York Psychiatric Institute; professor of clinical psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York; president, Center for Environmental Therapeutics. Daniel F. Kripke, MD, professor of psychiatry, University of California, San Diego; author, Brighten Your Life. Charles Raison, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Atlanta. The Cleveland Clinic. Wehr, T. Archives of General Psychiatry, December 2001, vol 58, pp 1108-1114. Kripke, D. Journal of Affective Disorders, May 1998, vol 49, pp 109-117. Terman, M. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, January 1995, vol 1, pp 87-92.

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