No, it isn't a part of the Duluth Airshow, which also happens to be in July this year. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently shared plans to conduct aerial operations to combat an invasive species that has spread into the Duluth area over the next few days.

The operations are scheduled to be completed before the middle of next week, with four different treatment areas being targeted during these efforts this month. Three of these areas are right in the city of Duluth, while the fourth is south of Duluth.

Below is information on what areas they're targeting, when they plan treatment, and other information:

What invasive species are they treating for?

The species being targeted with these treatments is the spongy moth, previously known as the gypsy moth. The USDA announced at the end of 2022 they would rename this invasive species as part of their larger "Better Common Names Project". The name "spongy moth" was given in reference to the insect's distinctive spongy-textured egg masses.

These species were imported into the United States in the 1880s, brought to Massachusetts from Europe in 1869. According to information from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), they were brought in a failed attempt to cross-breed with the silk worm for a more cold-hardy hybrid. These moths escaped, going into nearby trees and eventually infesting New England's forests and urban trees.

With no natural enemies and an appetite for destruction, these creatures have become a growing problem in an increasingly large area of the country.

Why is combatting this species necessary?

As mentioned above, these hungry insects have no natural enemies and are able to feed on and survive on over 300 types of trees and woody plants, making infestations quite impactful.

As explained by the MDA, untreated sites where these insects are found could see devastating consequences. If left untreated, here's what the MDA says Minnesotans could see in the next 5-10 years:

  • May/June caterpillar numbers in any single backyard will reach into the thousands or even millions. Oak trees and other host trees and shrubs will be bare by the beginning of summer. Trees may grow a second set of leaves if they are healthy, but they will be weakened. If the tree is already stressed, as many urban trees are, they may die. A second year of this kind of issue could lead to additional tree death.
  • As thousands of caterpillars feed, there is an audible sound of caterpillar droppings falling to the ground. Like any other excess nutrient, droppings get into runoff water and into the local watershed. Each caterpillar sheds its bristly skin four or five times as it grows, and the skins pile up. The bristles may become airborne and irritate human eyes, skin and respiratory systems. In fact, many people develop a rash if they come into contact with the bristles. It becomes extremely unpleasant to work or play outdoors; the caterpillars will also crawl on houses and may get inside.
  • By July, caterpillars shift into their pupa stage, which offers some relief to humans. Not long after, adult moths emerge and would be seen fluttering around all day looking for mates. Females lay eggs in unsightly egg masses in various places where they will lie in wait until the next season, when the cycle repeats itself until an eventual population crash and rebound cycle over several years.

None of that sounds good at all.

Where have spongy moths been seen?

After their introduction in Massachusetts in the 1800s, their range has expanded drastically, through all of the Northeastern United States, into Ohio, Michigan, and portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The area in dark blue is classified as a quarantine area, where all stages of the spongy moth life cycle have been recorded and quarantine of firewood and other wood-based items are under special quarantine.

The teal area in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin is the latest "action area", which includes the Duluth/Superior area, where monitoring and combat efforts are part of the management strategy

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

The first recorded instance of spongy moth in Minnesota was recorded in Duluth in 1969, where egg masses and pupa were both found. Since then, Lake and Cook County (which you'll note are in dark blue in the map above) have seen reproducing populations develop, leading to those counties joining the quarantine zone.

What is the treatment, and is it harmful?

The treatment, which is part of a national, state, and local effort, consists of the usage of a product that disrupts the mating of spongy moths. The compound, which is called SPLAT GM-O, is a pheromone-based product designed to confuse adult moths and prevent them from reproducing. In short, the scent of female moths is distributed in an area to confuse males so they can't find females.

The compound SPLAT GM-O, according to the MDA, is an EPA-certified organic, nontoxic, and biodegradable formula that is made with food-grade materials. It is designed specifically to interfere with spongy moth mating, while not impacting other insects and wildlife or impacting the surrounding environment.

If a human or animal comes into contact with the compound, simply washing the area with soap and water is all the MDA says you need to do. Clothing can be cleaned with hot water and laundry detergent.

Is the treatment harmful to paint, structures, or vehicles?

The MDA says the compound used will not harm paint on vehicles or outdoor structures and it can easily be washed off with a mild detergent and water. They say it should come off in a similar way you would was road grime off of your vehicle. They do note that additional "elbow grease" may be needed to remove a deposit of the compound if it is left on a surface for several days.

What areas are they targeting?

There are four different places being targeted in Minnesota's battle against spongy moths this year. Three of them are in Duluth, with one south of Duluth

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Here's a closer look at each of the target areas:

Duluth East (see full-size map here)

This includes the area surrounding Chester Park, including UMD and the College of St. Scholastica and places closer to downtown.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Duluth West (see full-size map here)

This area extends from Enger Park, through Lincoln Park, and all the way toward the edge of Proctor.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Midway (see full-size map here)

This area extends from just west of Proctor and along I-35 down toward the area of Midway Road and Grand View Golf Course.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Holyoke (see full-size map here)

As the name of this zone would suggest, it includes the Holyoke area, spanning from Burdick Road along Highway 8 and westward to Highway 23.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

When are they conducting these treatments?

Each of the designated areas is expected to only be treated once this season. The MDA just shared planned treatment dates for each of the zones, which are contingent on cooperative weather. Here are the planned dates for each zone:

  • Holyoke Block - Friday, July 14
  • Duluth East Block -  Monday, July 17
  • Duluth West Block -  Monday, July 17
  • Midway Block -  Monday, July 17

Again, these dates are all dependant on cooperative weather. Crews will begin work both days as early as 6:30 am and continue until each of the areas is treated.

During treatment, the aircraft will usually arrive around sunrise, which is generally when weather conditions are best for the disbursement of the compound used for treatment. The plane will make a series of passes over the target area, roughly only 50 feet above the treetops. This means you may be awoken on the day of treatment by the loud sound of the plane flying low, overhead.

The MDA is offering the public the opportunity to get updates in one of the following ways:

  • Click here to sign up online.
  • Or Text “MNMDA MOTH” to 66468 to receive text updates.
  • Or text “MNMDA MOTH [your email address here]” to 66468 to receive email updates.

You can also visit the MDA's website on this year's treatment areas here.

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