Plane truth: Low fliers spray to control gypsy moths
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org June 12, 2012 7:58PM
Lymantria dispar — commonly known as the gypsy moth.
Signs of gypsy moths
Visible egg masses: They are covered with buff or yellowish hair from the abdomen of the female and average about 11/2 inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide.
Visible caterpillars: Newly hatched, they are black and hairy. Later stages of the larvae develop a mottled yellow to gray pattern with tufts of bristle-like hairs and a distinctive color pattern of five pairs of blue dots followed by six pairs of red dots along their backs.
Visible adult moths: Male moths are brown with a darker brown pattern on their wings and have a 11/2-inch wingspan. Females are slightly larger, with a 2-inch wingspan, and nearly white with dark saw-toothed patterns on their wings.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Updated: July 14, 2012 6:31AM
Connie Volante panicked early Tuesday morning when she saw a low-flying plane pass over her Tinley Park house.
“At first, I thought the plane was in trouble,” she said. It was so low, she could read the numbers on the aircraft.
Instead, it was the love life of an insect that was in trouble in several Southland towns.
After calling the Illinois State Police and being referred to forest preserve district officials, Volante learned that the plane was spraying for caterpillars to control the population of gypsy moths.
“I was really freaking out. ‘What are they spraying?’ I thought they were going to kill all butterflies,” said Volante, an avid organic gardener with a butterfly garden who was afraid it would not be so organic.
There was no need for residents, pets or plants to take cover, however. The plane was spraying not a chemical, but flakes, designed to disrupt the mating of the moths, according to Scott Schirmer, a plant and pesticide specialist and supervisor with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The flakes are applied only once, and different areas are targeted each year.
The flakes have no smell to creatures other than the gypsy moth.
“It’s not lethal or poisonous,” Schirmer said. “It just confuses them. It knocks out the male’s ability to find a mate.”
The flakes make the entire area smell like the female moth.
“If we mess with their heads, they are not able to procreate,” Schirmer said. “More people get worked up over the low-flying planes.”
That was the concern of C. Fitzpatrick, of Country Club Hills, also a targeted area.
“The plane was flying dangerously low. I could see the person in the plane,” she said.
It came by her two-story house near Interstate 57 and Flossmoor Road at least a half-dozen times, she said.
Fitzpatrick said residents should have been notified in advance. Not knowing what was being sprayed, she wondered if she should keep her children and pets indoors.
Tinley Park officials posted a notice on the village’s website Tuesday morning after getting calls from residents, said Pat Carr, the village’s director of emergency management. Public information meetings were held in May in both Tinley Park and Lansing, but only “three or four” people attended, Schirmer said.
In Tinley Park, the targeted area stretched from 159th Street to Vollmer Road, and from Cicero Avenue to 65th Avenue. In Lansing, it spanned primarily a wooded strip from Torrence Avenue and Thornton-Lansing Road, west and south into Glenwood, near Halsted Street.
With other products, Schirmer has recommended that residents stay indoors for a half-hour after the spraying, but that’s not necessary with the flakes, he said.
“If it lands on your car, you just wipe it off,” Schirmer said.
If left unchecked, gypsy moths can defoliate a forest in one season, and they particularly like oak trees, he said.
The flakes are used where there are moths but not a heavy infestation.
Wooded areas in Lockport — where the moth population was heavy — had to be sprayed via helicopter twice this spring with a natural bacteria that sticks to tree leaves and kills the caterpillars but poses no threats to humans or pets.