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LETTER: Reader says citizens can do their part to eliminate gyspy moths

'Together, we citizens can reduce this plague to manageable proportions and save our trees next summer,' says Peter Bursztyn
gypsy moth caterpillar
Stock image

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to a story titled 'City mapping will help pinpoint gypsy moth hot spots in Barrie,' published on June 22. 

For 10 days I have been murdering caterpillars. I do not enjoy this, but it is an act in defence of my property – specifically trees on my property.

One of these is my street tree, a 35-year-old maple planted by the city. The others are trees I had planted on my small piece of Barrie: two maples, and oak, a Canadian hemlock, a white pine, and a crab apple ranging between 20 to 30 years old.

My street tree and the crab apple have been completely stripped of leaves, a nearby maple retains 10 per cent of its foliage. The other resident of my front yard, the Canadian hemlock, is looking sad. I think all of its new growth has been chewed away.

My back yard is doing better. The maple has retained most of its canopy and the oak seems to have half of its leaves. The white pine is infested with caterpillars, but it is hard to gauge how much foliage remains.

You must agree that I have reason to be upset.

Last summer, I had no idea how much damage these little beasties could do. I saw gypsy moths flying around and began to notice they were laying eggs in masses on tree trunks. Because I love my trees, I elected to act. I taped a “welder’s toothbrush” (small wire brush looking like a toothbrush) to the end of an extending pole, which is part of a pruning device I own. I began to scrape the egg masses off my trees.

I thought I should also remove these gypsy moth eggs from my neighbours’ trees. After all, the COVID mantra “nobody is safe until we are all safe” would seem to apply here, too. In the end, I did every single tree in the front yards of houses on my short (just 35 houses) street.

When asked, “What are you doing?” I explained and suggested they do likewise to all the trees in their back yards. I patrolled the street several times until I was sure that I had removed most of the gypsy moth eggs within reach.

Unfortunately, I failed spectacularly with three trees. These are fully grown oaks most of whose egg masses were well beyond my reach. A couple of weeks ago, they began to rain caterpillars on my property, and I began to notice.

I applied bands of duct tape to my trees, twisting them so the upper layers were glue side up. The caterpillars accumulated below the tape and I began to kill them in huge numbers. Every caterpillar I killed could not develop into an egg-laying moth.

For a week I was brushing around three kilograms per day off the trees and into a bucket of soapy, ammonia-laced water – sometimes as often as four times per day! I flush these to the sewage plant where their decomposition creates methane gas with which the sewage plant generates electricity and heat (to warm incoming sewage). In other words, the caterpillars help pay for their destruction.

I have heard talk about spraying the entire city to kill the pests (from my councillor). Although I hate the pests for the damage they do to my precious trees, I don’t like the idea of broadcasting pesticide.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry responded to my request for advice: “To kill the caterpillars, our experts recommend leaving the caterpillars in a bucket of soapy water overnight. As for your walls, you can leave them be … they are looking for food and will move on … or could try spraying them with garden hose on low power to see if they’ll let go.”

In other words, do what I have been doing.

Another letter to BarrieToday (published June 23) also suggests doing nothing; they will go away – eventually. But I believe in giving nature a helping hand.

So I am calling on everybody in Barrie to help out. If you have trees on your property, brush caterpillars off into soapy water as I have been doing. Wear a broad-brim hat so they don’t fall down your collar – contact can cause a rash!

Approach your neighbours to suggest they do the same. And later in the season, when the moths have laid their egg masses, scrape these off with a suitable brush. If they are in easy reach, scrape them into soapy water, however most of the ones I saw were too high up the trees to catch the scrapings in a bucket!

While walking in a park, take the brush you use for snow removal from your car. Use it to brush caterpillars off the trees you pass. Simply brushing kills many of them!

Together, we citizens can reduce this plague to manageable proportions and save our trees next summer. Together, we can save Barrie from spraying the entire town; we can save the city (and ourselves) money! We need not sit by helplessly, waiting for nature to take its course.

To soothe any “bleeding hearts” out there who object to killing living things, remember – the gypsy moth is an invasive pest introduced into North America around 1860. Climate change (specifically warmer winters) allowed it to spread north into Canada, but we don’t have the natural predators to control its numbers. Control is up to us.

Please do your part; help me preserve our shade trees. It’s personal for me. I want a shady spot to enjoy a beer on a hot summer day! Don’t you?

Peter Bursztyn