D’oh! Oak moths aren’t pests after all

bmorem@thetribunenews.comJuly 11, 2012 

In the interest of full disclosure, I can no longer rightly call myself The Answer Man — at least when it comes to doing battle with the wily oak moth.

If you’ve followed this space, you may recall a June lamentation dealing with the fourth infestation of my pygmy oaks by the winged vermin, laying eggs that would produce trunk-crawling hordes of leaf-eating caterpillars. I believed then that moths were harbingers of death for my copse of little oaks.

Turns out that mothrocide wasn’t only unwarranted, it was actually the wrong thing to do. I now know this due to Lionel “Oak Man” Johnston, truly The Answer Man when it comes to all things oak. After reading the June 14 mothanity column, Lionel wrote:

“Dear Bill: In the wet years, oak moth populations are low, and the trees grow a little bit more of a root system, and a lot of leaves. When the seasons turn dry, as they did last winter, oak moths proliferate and eat many of the leaves on the tree, lowering the surface area of the tree, and also lowering the evaporation rate of moisture from the tree, thus protecting the tree from drying out too much and saving all those new roots for future use.”

Now, from any lesser individual, it might be prudent to question these assertions, but Lionel has probably been responsible for more oak plantings — numbering in the tens of thousands — than any other living being. So, as if I didn’t get the picture, he adds:

“The oak moths are not a pest, they have been living in harmony and symbiosis with the oak trees for millions of years and are not only NOT a problem of any sort, but actually a partner in helping the oak survive.”

Then, to really drive the point home that my mothification methods have served up a bean ball to the biota, he explains that the relation of moth-healthy oaks leads to the tree’s greatest gift, acorns.

“Many animals — from bears and humans and birds — eat the acorns, but there is also a large number of animals, mostly birds, who peck open the downed acorns and eat the larva inside, thus insuring a food supply for themselves. Left alone, the larva will emerge as a caterpillar in March, eat grass and get bigger.

“The acorns fall from late September until December, and our salmon and steelhead trout run up the creeks and mate on the earliest storms, thus giving their babies more time to eat and get big in our short winters. The major storms don’t arrive until January, just in time to wash many of the acorns into the creek.

“The larvae struggle out the hole in a bid to escape drowning, only to be consumed like popcorn by the baby fish, thus insuring THEIR survival. So, Bill, you and most of your fellow humans are talking through your hats when it comes to the natural order.” Thus spake The Answer Man for all things oak.

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

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