Gypsy moth(er)

By , Pamela Marsh is a Monitor staff writer

It's hard to love a gypsy moth. In fact until they discovered me they had practically no friends at all. Their record is not endearing: in the caterpillar stage they've taken over vast acreages of New England, gobbled up foliage letting the sunlight into the forests, and covered gardens with a living , far from lovely, squirming carpet.

When a small cloud of them (in moth stage) visited my garden I was not pleased. They fluttered around bumping into things -- mostly me. It was my duty, my friends told me, To Take Steps To Save The Neighborhood. I must, they said, resort to a dirty trick: buy a trap and bait it with the poisoned lure of the female moth. Then, they assured me, the hapless male moth would rush into the trap and. . .well. . .die there.

Be careful, my friends said. Wear rubber gloves, they insisted. Assemble the trap near where it would hang.

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So I did.

It's not easy assembling anything, particularly a moth trap, particularly in rubber gloves on a hot day. I did my best with instructions that bad been written with the average engineering professor in mind. Cardboard grew limp. Spots of lure fell off onto me. Sticky tapes clung to my gloves. A squadron of moths was growing frantic. A helpful friend pointed out that I now have an upsidedown trap.

"It's supposed to have a little green roof," he said. "Yours has a little brown one." He was right. I tried again. The bottom dropped out.

But it made no difference. A clear signal had gone out, and moth formations zoomed in from miles around. They jeered at the trap. The architecture was aesthetically displeasing, the entrance hard to find, the little green roof was buckled. But when they found me -- ah here, moth told moth, was a sight for sore eyes. They liked me. They followed me in a fluttering, flattering cloud.

But enough was enough. However, your average gypsy moth, you will find (if you are fortunate enough to meet one), won't take a hint. He doesn't know when it's time to leave. I though that a swim in the ocean might give them the idea. So I leaped into my car.

I drove a moth carpool down to the beach. Sunbathers fidgeted while my moth friends waited politely for me to finish my dip. We all drove home together again.

The interesting thing about all this is -- as a knowledgeable friend has explained to me -- that traps, if you are unfriendly enough to use them, aren't much of a remedy anyway. It's the female moth who does the damage and she doesn't fly at all. So if you have done away with a hundred males and left just one alive you probably haven't saved a single twig. Besides a baited trap will attract every male in town to your yard.

So wait instead for the eggs to hatch and then attack them with kerosene. Fasten a cloth to a stick, dip the cloth in kerosene, apply to the eggs, and be glad you aren't tormented by the Mediterranean fruit fly.

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