CELS plant science and entomology experts give us the 411 on summer pests


They’re tiny terrors that pack a powerful punch.

Ticks, mosquitoes, and caterpillars have laid siege to Rhode Island, carrying with them real threats of disease and devastation. Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, Zika and “bull’s eye rash” are now part of our summertime vernacular.

URI’s experts in these areas are in high demand by local and international news outlets. Some experts are bearers of glad tidings. Others, not so much.

First, the good news: gypsy moths, which defoliated 230,000 acres of Rhode Island forest in 2016, have had their moment this spring thanks to May being one of the soggiest months on record. Turns out the rain was great for a fungus, Entomophaga, which attacks and kills the moths, says research associate Heather Faubert, who runs the University’s Plant Protection Clinic and diagnoses plant diseases.

“By the end of June, I really expect almost all of the gypsy moth caterpillars to be dead from fungal disease,” she said. Faubert’s work in recent years has been almost exclusively devoted to assisting farmers in battling moths. At present, she is experimenting with insecticide treatments for trees and advising farmers on dealing with winter moths, which feed on apple trees and blueberry bushes. They accounted for 27,000 defoliated acres in Rhode Island in 2015.

Postscript: The fungus should return gypsy moth levels to normal next year, Faubert noted. Score one for trees. But a wet Spring is not necessarily a good thing for human beings. Mosquitoes like stagnant water, and ticks, humidity…[Read more]