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280 days of Urbpandemonium #120

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There was a time when the Chinese silk industry inspired envy in North America. How could these Oriental foreigners craft something so fine and valuable using just insects? A Frenchman living in Massachusetts set about working on the problem in the mid 1800s, breeding a bristly and spotted caterpillar from Europe in his home laboratory in the Boston suburb of Medford. He hoped that he could perfect silk production with these prolific worms that ate the leaves of nearly any tree. It never panned out, and to make matters worse, a storm disrupted his operation and freed many of his animals. They thrived in their new environment: birds found them too prickly to eat, and most of their normal parasites and pathogens had been left behind in Europe.

Today Lymantria dispar is found throughout New England and the rest of the Northeast--west to Michigan and south to North Carolina. "The United States Forest Service estimates the moth's range is spreading south and west at a rate of about 21 kilometers per year." It has appeared in Oregon and British Columbia, presumably from egg masses attached to vehicles crossing the continent. Every few years there are scattered population booms of the caterpillars, causing localized deforestation. The moth is commonly known as the "Gypsy moth," but I think it's time to retire that. In the past I've suggested "Medford's Shame," as the new name.

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Males appear at porch lights and bug nights--they are brown with large feathery antennae. Females are whitish and have wings but can not fly.

* "Destructive, separate" (Separate because the sexes look different)


The Urban Pantheist

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