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Skippers Butterflies and Moths: Lepidoptera

Gypsy Moth (lymantria Dispar): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Adult males are light to dark brown with irregular black markings. Their wingspan measures 1 to 1.5 inches (25.4 to 38.0 millimeters). They have wider feathery antennae. Females are all white with irregular black lines on the wings. Their wingspan is 2.24 to 2.68 inches (56 to 67 millimeters), and they have narrower feathery antennae. Mature larvae are 1.48 to 2.40 inches (37 to 60 millimeters) long. Their bodies are gray with a row of hair tufts down their backs. They have five pairs of blue spots followed by six pairs of red spots. The brown pupae are 0.76 to 1.0 inches (19 to 25 millimeters) long and have small circlets of hairs.

Geographic range: Gypsy moths are found throughout most of Eurasia. They have become established in northeastern North America.

Habitat: Gypsy moths live in forests and fields, as well as in towns and cities. The caterpillars are found on their food plants.

Gypsy moths lay batches of one hundred to one thousand eggs on virtually any surface, including automobiles and lawn and picnic furniture. (©Rod Planck/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: The larvae eat more than five hundred different kinds of trees and shrubs, including pines, oaks, poplars, willows, and birches. The moths do not feed.

Behavior and reproduction: Males fly in late afternoon or at night in search of females. The females have wings but do not fly. However, females of Japanese populations are capable of flying.

Females attract males with pheromones during the summer. After mating they lay batches of one hundred to one thousand eggs on virtually any surface, including automobiles and lawn and picnic furniture. Eggs laid on moveable objects are often accidentally transported long distances. The eggs overwinter and hatch in spring. The caterpillars require 20 to 60 days before they can pupate. During this period male caterpillars molt five times, while females molt six. The life cycle, from egg to adult, takes about 20 to 60 days. The pupal stage lasts about 14 to 17 days.

Gypsy moths and people: The gypsy moth is an important forest pest in Europe, Asia, and the northeastern United States. There are laws in the United States and other countries designed to isolate known populations and prevent their spread into new areas.

Conservation status: This species is not considered endangered or threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersSkippers Butterflies and Moths: Lepidoptera - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Lepidopterans And People, Conservation Status - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE