Spongy Moths in the Southern Tier

By Alexandra Deryn

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. (WENY) – Spongy moths, known as Lymantria dispar, are known to cause foliage damage to gardens and trees. People in the Southern Tier are also feeling the effects of their presence with itchiness and hives on their skin.

Margaret Royall is the Master Gardener Volunteer Program Coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County. Royall said this non-native, invasive species is from Eastern Europe. She added, a lot of people in Tompkins County have been noticing spongy moths flare up, this year.

“People probably notice a lot of caterpillars…not only on trees, but also falling from trees…and the ground,” she said. “Mostly because they eat a lot of leaves off trees around them.”

Royall said spongy moths are picky with what plants they destroy, but no plant is truly safe. These insects can also damage other plants they latch on to, including crops and gardens.

“There are certain trees they prefer over others,” she said. “The thing I think they do the most damage to are oak trees and they can defoliate the plant at a time when it’s just starting to leaf out.”

Humans are not safe from the moths either. Royall noticed people are complaining more often about spongy moths this year, than when they started to flare up in 2021.

“It was definitely causing a lot of hives, and raised bumps, very itchy, lasts a very long time, and can even cause some scarring,” she said.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to handle them. Royall said Benadryl and calamine lotion can bring relief. As for their invasive presence, there are a few ways to handle it, she said.

“They can be squished…so, that’s one way,” she said. “They can also be collected and frozen, which is a pretty humane way because they pretty much…go to sleep.”

Royall said plant specialists do not expect these invasive insects to be around longer than approximately two years. The bad news is, they may stay in an area for as long as five years.


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