The pheromone solution

Posted 7/12/22

Climate change has affected the area in which our tiny house in New Hampshire is located.  This was immediately apparent when crossing the Saco River in Conway near Route 302.  The …

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The pheromone solution


Climate change has affected the area in which our tiny house in New Hampshire is located.  This was immediately apparent when crossing the Saco River in Conway near Route 302.  The previously free-flowing waterway, often the host of exuberant family tubing expeditions, appeared to be only inches deep with a multitude of rocks and boulders jutting through the surface.  My thought was that the amount of snow from the previous winter had been smaller than usual, causing less melted water to flow down from the peaks and cascade into the rivers. Without the seasonal surplus of H2O, the river density had diminished, just one sign of the climate change steamroller in New Hampshire.

I also noticed that the splendor of the mountains had dimmed greatly.  What used to be a patchwork of vibrant greens, sage, olive, hunter, army, artichoke, and forest, was replaced by a blank slate of brown, brown and browner, and it no longer commanded views.  Shocked at the state of the state, especially Mount Washington, it was apparent that climate change affected more than just the production of water. Upon further research, I learned that the good ‘ole gypsy moth was at fault for the devastation of tree leaves, gnawing each tree bare down to its branches. It was not like when the leaves turned brown in the late autumn, but as though the leaves themselves had dissolved, as if by magic.

The name of the “gypsy moth” has been replaced due to sensitivity towards the ethnicity of Romani individuals from Europe. Instead of representing moths that travel from place to place, (such as Gypsies,) they have been renamed spongy moths because they lay eggs in spongy patches on the tree leaves. Once the eggs hatch, newly released occupants devour everything in sight. 

Hubby and I took a walk in the woods, and it was quite disconcerting to hear the sound of rain, only to realize it was a sunny day.  The sound we actually heard was of the moths munching on the leaves and drizzling down excrement, sounding just like rain.  UGH!

The overpowering spongy moths and their appetite for oak trees have caused additional issues for the many animals and birds that depend upon acorns to survive, such as wild turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, white tailed deer, and bear. These animals seek food in places they may not have visited earlier, as evidenced by the big, black bear rambling around our neighborhood recently. Even with our fellow cabin owners banging on pots and pans to scare it, the big brute just strolled into our backyard and confiscated my s’mores supplies that had been laying by the campfire. Darn bear! How do we get rid of those spongy moths so I can enjoy the outdoors again?

Were the drought to subside and rain to flourish in the area once again, a fungus could develop that would wipe out the moths biologically. There are a few commercial pesticides to kill off the creatures, and these might suffice for one lot, but certainly not for a mountain full of trees.  Additionally, the safety of such bug killers may still be in question.  The most interesting solution I read about was called “mating disruption”. The flightless female spongy moth releases a powerful pheromone to attract males in the area, enhanced by additional pheromone aerated over the area.  The males become confused at the abundance of scent, cannot find a mate, and die without producing offspring, which certainly greatly diminishes the number of spongy moth offspring.

For this summer, at least, we will have to put up with bare branched trees and visiting black bears, (however I am keeping my s’mores ingredients in the house.) Perhaps this winter will be colder and provide more snow, but I doubt it…


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