Mr. Mothro Morem on mothanity

bmorem@thetribunenews.comJune 13, 2012 

The Answer Man is in.

Today’s question comes from Myron May of Arroyo Grande, who asks: “In the June 13 Tribune, the subject was about light brown apple moths.

No mention was made of the oak tree moth — caterpillar worms. The oak tree moths are in the oak trees in my neighborhood by the thousands. How can we take care of these pests? I have had them in my oaks for almost 40 years.”

Excellent question, Myron, one that’s near and dear to my heart, seeing as how I’ve got a copse of pygmy oaks in my Baywood Park front yard that’s simply all aflutter.

In my case, this is the fourth infestation this year, and my trees have long gotten over the thrill of being repeatedly stripped naked by voracious spawn of Satan. So I’ve adopted the parable of “three mosquitoes at a Buddhist picnic,” which goes something like this: A mosquito lands on a Buddhist’s arm at a picnic and he/she gently brushes it away. A second then lands and is given the same treatment. When a third lands, WHAP! The moral of the story is that everyone, even Buddhists, have a point of strained patience. As noted, my tolerance levels came whapping down with the fourth invasion.

According to the good folks at UC Extension, last winter was almost perfect for multiple hatches; it was mild with not much rain — ideal breeding conditions, unfortunately.

So, with grandson Madden (aka Tiny Man) by my side, we Jeeped over to Miner’s Hardware on a recent Saturday morning and got ourselves a couple of cheap bamboo-handled nets.

We waited until about 4 p.m. (late afternoons seem to be warm enough to drive them into a fluttering frenzy) when our trees exploded with the deafening silence of thousands of beating moth wings. We waded in.

Oh the carnage, the mothanity.

Yet, after our last swing before calling it a day, there seemed to be more moths than when we started. It made as much sense as an M.C.

Escher print. Nonetheless, I made time each evening to bag a few moths. And then the oddest thing happened; I call it The Last Battle of the Jeep.

I was out bagging the odd moth here and there late Sunday afternoon when I couldn’t help but notice that a sizeable number of moths were extremely interested in my Jeep, parked adjacent to the oaks.

Now, I’m not one to believe that Jeeps exude oak-moth pheromones, but something odd was attracting them. My net was fairly twitching in anticipation of a ripe harvest as I approached.

Wading in, a situation nothing short of a phenomenon occurred: Moths by the thousands descended, fluttering about the Jeep, around my face, landing on my shirt, shorts, arms and legs. They were actually crawling into the net, which I kept swinging in arcs and figure eights, bagging dozens in a pass. I half expected to hear Rod Serling saying: “Meet Mr. Bill Morem, a normally mellow type of guy who now finds himself swinging for the fences as he’s smothered in moths within the Twilight Zone.”

Later, relating the experience to The Lovely Sharita, she thought my new nickname should be Mothro Morem. Just my luck, it’ll stick. Yet, it seems as though the extreme numbers of oak moths who died at the Last Battle of the Jeep indeed depleted their numbers to such a degree that I’ve only seen a couple since.

So, Myron, that’s one way to do it: Park a Jeep next to your oaks, get a cheap bamboo-handled butterfly net and have at it. Or, you could follow the advice of the good folks at UC Extension — who remind us, by the way, that an oak moth caterpillar-eaten oak tree will survive a leaf-stripping attack if the trees are otherwise healthy and unstressed.

Should you decide on a chemical assault, here’s what they have to say: “Bacillus thuringiensis, also called Bt and available at local nurseries, is the most widely used microbial insecticide and has been used effectively against oakworm for many years. Unlike broad-spectrum insecticides that kill on contact, oakworms must eat Bt-sprayed foliage to be affected. Bt destroys the oakworm’s digestive system and causes larvae to stop feeding within about a day. Most infected oakworms die within a few days. Bt is not toxic to most noncaterpillar insects, including natural enemies. Because sunlight quickly decomposes Bt on foliage, most oakworms hatching after the application are not affected. A second application about seven to 10 days after the first may be required.”

Until next time, this has been the Answer Man.

Bill (Mothro) Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.

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