White Satin Moth Outbreak in Northern Nevada

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SPOONER SUMMIT, Nev. -- They look like gentle flying cotton balls, but don't be fooled! The White Satin Moth can destroy groves of trees. Recently, there has been an outbreak in Northern Nevada and now the Nevada Division of Forestry needs your help to control the infestation.

What was once an aspen grove full of green, lush leaves is now a death bed of bare branches. The culprit: the hauntingly beautiful White Satin Moth.

"We have a small outbreak of it in several spots across Northern Nevada and this year it's gotten quite a bit larger," Jeff Knight, entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture said. "We estimate something around 100 times bigger in size."

They hibernate during the winter months, and are most active in the spring as larvae when they start feeding on the leaves. Left unchecked, they will ravage your plants. Aspens, willows and cottonwood trees are their food of choice.

"The biggest thing [the public] should do is watch [the moth] very carefully, especially next spring; they start seeing some defoliation, that's when they treat it," Knight said. "There are chemical treatments and bacterial treatments used on a small scale."

Sadly, there isn't much you can do to slow them down, other than report an infestation to Forestry officials. The good news is, natural predators, like birds and wasps, are on their tails.

"Once those things get back up then we'll see the populations go down," Knight said.

If you're interested in fighting back, experts suggest the best way to get rid of the moths, larvae or eggs is to search them out on leaves or tree trucks and squish them in a Ziploc bag.

"If you do see a lot of insects and these moths coming to the lights, if you switch your bulb to an amber or yellow color, that'll reduce your numbers," he said. "On a large scale, I think we're just going to have to sit and wait for nature to take its course and get things back into check."

The biggest population has been reported around the Lake Tahoe basin. Knights says the moths were first introduced to the United States in the 1920s, but believes the weather might have caused the outbreak in Nevada.

If you see White Satin Moths east of Fallon and north of I-80, report them to the Nevada Division of Forestry to help them map out the populations. Contact Gail Durham via telephone at (775) 843-2500 or e-mail at gdurham@forestry.nv.gov.