Gardening tips: Japanese? Beetles | Columnists

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A few weeks ago I was watching the local news and the reporter was talking about severe tree defoliation north of Albany. He called the insects responsible for the defoliation “fuzzy butterflies.” When they showed pictures of the hairy caterpillars causing the problem, I immediately recognized them as gypsy moths. Apparently the name “squishy” was “cancelled” because someone, who identifies as a gypsy, might be offended. “Gypsy” has many definitions, some of them may be considered offensive to some people, in some situations, but the most common usage is to describe traveling to different places, not permanently staying in one given location. This trait accurately describes the behavior of these serious tree killers. “Fuzzy” generally evokes harmless feelings.

Anyone who has witnessed significant defoliation of trees leading to death or damage to a forest landscape knows well that these leaf-eating pests are far from harmless. Their “fuzzy” bodies make them distasteful to most insect-eating critters, and the “fuzzy” hairs can cause dermatitis in people who pick them by hand. Accidental ingestion of “fuzzy” caterpillars on tree leaves has also caused the abortion of their fetuses in some horses.

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