UMass Amherst insect researchers say they've eliminated the threat of the winter moth -- which feeds on maple, oak, and other trees -- without the use of pesticides.
Winter moth came to New England from Europe in the 1990s, possibly by hitching a ride on a nursery plant, according to UMass entomologist Joseph Elkinton.
In its caterpillar form, the moth was destroying shade trees and blueberry plants, mostly along the coast.
For 14 years, Elkinton -- with USDA funding -- has been developing what's called a "biocontrol" method against the pest.
Based on a previous outbreak in Nova Scotia, Elkinton's lab introduced a parasitic fly that preys on the moth.
"You want to make sure that the thing you introduce is not going to become a problem in its own right," Elkinton said. "But the beauty of this particular fly we've been working with is that it attacks only winter moths, and not other species."
Now that the fly has been successfully released into the environment, and the moth rendered a "non-pest," Elkinton said homeowners can avoid the cost and harm of pesticides.
His lab will now help develop biocontrol methods against the gypsy moth and other invasive insects.