Gypsy moths converge on Ohio town

Edd Pritchard

Shade usually covers the Sharkeys’ back yard. But not this summer.

Gypsy moths have cleared the leaves off one towering white oak tree and were busy devouring a second tree.

“We were gone two weeks and came back to this,” Mickie Sharkey said. In early June, she and her husband attended a grandchild’s graduation. Both trees had full canopies when the couple left.

Sharkey fears the defoliated tree might be dead, while the other is close to being bare.

“I don’t know why they like us so much,” she said with a sarcastic smile. “They ate the whole tree.”

Under attack

Gypsy moths are swarming through trees in the neighborhood at Glenwood Street and Fair Oaks Avenue SW.

Residents are worried the caterpillars will destroy their trees. Getting rid of the pests can be expensive, and efforts don’t always work.

“Treating it ourselves isn’t going to fix anything,” said Julie Fonte, a Fair Oaks resident and neighbor of the Sharkeys. The problem must be attacked by all of the neighbors, or it won’t go away, she said.

Fonte led a group that asked North Canton Council last week for help against the gypsy moths.

City officials are looking at the problem.

Administrator Earle E. Wise Jr. said he’s checked the Glenwood-Fair Oaks neighborhood, as well as Dogwood Park and The Fairways golf course. Wise said the problem is evident in the neighborhood, but so far none of the pests have been found in city parks.

“We’ve got to figure out the extent of the concern,” Wise said.

Fonte said she and some of her neighbors started noticing caterpillars in late May but didn’t realize they were gypsy moths. As the bugs grew, they became a more unsightly nuisance. The caterpillars cling in groups on houses and drop feces that are noticeable black dots on concrete surfaces.

Wait until next spring

Spraying the pests right now would be futile, said Dave Adkins, the gypsy moth program manager on the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Plant Pest Control Section. When the state sprays for gypsy moths, it applies an insecticide that falls on leaves the caterpillars will eat.

The pests are just about finished devouring leaves for this year. Over the next week, most will begin to cocoon as they change from caterpillars into moths. Once that happens, it’s too late to spray.

So Adkins and his staff are focused on next year.

As complaints pour in -- Adkins said his office received a dozen calls from around the state Monday -- staff members head off to investigate. They will check new complaints and examine areas sprayed earlier this year. One of those areas is on Canton’s northeast side at Nimisilla Park, which was sprayed in May, Adkins said.

Calls are coming in, Adkins said, because it is the peak feeding time for gypsy moths.

“This is when everyone starts noticing the leaves are all gone,” he said.

North Canton residents hope their neighborhood can qualify for the state’s spraying program. But there are criteria that must be met before an area is eligible.

Further clouding the pictures is the state’s budget troubles, Adkins said.  It’s possible the spraying program could end if money can’t be found, he said.

There are natural fungi that attack and kill gypsy moths, but dry weather in recent years has hindered the fungi from developing. This year’s rain might have come too late, Adkins said.

Gypsy moths need to be curbed, Adkins said. The insects reproduce quickly, with 500 eggs in many egg masses. Once an outbreak starts, it’s possible to have 1 million caterpillars within three years.

Communities shouldn’t wait, Adkins said. “It can get out of hand real quick.”

Canton Repository


Stark County is part of an area the Ohio Department of Agriculture has designated for combating gypsy moths. That’s the first step toward getting some help battling the pest. But other criteria are considered by the state.

-- Area should be at least 50 acres.

-- There should be 250 egg masses within a forested residential area.

-- The tree canopy should cover 50 percent of the area.

-- At least 35 percent of the tree species in an area should be susceptible or slightly resistant to the gypsy moth.

-- The area must meet guidelines for threatened and endangered species.

For more information, check the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Web site at