Low-Flying Planes Will Battle Invasive Pests

Representatives from the Illinois Department of Agriculture will be flying planes over Tinley in June to curb the rising gypsy moth population. But the planes will not be spreading a chemical treatment. Instead, they'll be using a more interesting method.

Planes will soon be buzzing , spraying not chemicals, but pheromones, to hamper the spread of the destructive gypsy moth.

The pheromones will confuse male moths, preventing them from finding their female counterparts, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Officials said the treatment is safe for people, plants and animals.

It will be applied during a two-hour process in the first week of June using a fixed-wing airplane. A public informational meeting regarding the process will be held tonight at the . 

"It would be like a man going into a bar and getting a huge waft of perfume," said Scott Schirmer, the department's plant and pesticide specialist supervisor. "You think it smells good but you cant tell who's wearing it. We're essentially dumping a whole lot of female gypsy moth scent over the area and the bugs won't be able to tell where it's coming from."

The Gypsy Moth program has been followed in Illinois for more than 20 years—about a century after the first gypsy moth was brought to the United States. It's carried out with help from the U.S. Forest Service, Schirmer said.

Gypsy moths, which have a presence in Tinley that peaked the interest of those from state and federal agencies, are capable of defoliating a forest in a matter of weeks. Though they have a rather broad taste preference, they often target oak trees, Schirmer said.

"With gypsy moths, you have what I like to call 'little forest fires' that pop up," Schirmer said. "In Tinley Park, the population is not necessarily heavy enough that we have to go in and kill all the caterpillars, but it's widespread. It's just not a huge population point where they're causing tons of destruction."

The local treatment plan encompasses about 9,000 acres of land, according to the IDOA. Representatives are also treating areas of Oswego, Lansing and Rockford. In the last two locations, they'll be applying bacteria that will kill the developing pests. 

An unseasonably warm March spurred outbreaks of the bug about a month sooner than usual, Schirmer said. The moths are now in their caterpillar stage making them mostly unnoticed by residents. The pheromone treatment ideally targets the bugs when they are in their adult stage—that tentatively pegs the local spraying at June 6.

"We use a very low dose and try to time it with the development of the bug," Schirmer said, noting that as little as 6 grams of acre can be used. "This has proven really effective in keeping those populations down or knocking them down to a point where it's not going to be detrimental."

Though the treatment isn't harmful to residents or the environment, Schirmer suggests staying indoors with pets as a precautionary measure while the process is underway.

Get more information by attending the meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Tinley Park Public Library, 7851 Timber Drive. Or for more on the overall plan, call the department of agriculture at 815-787-5476.

Maps of the treatment sites are posted on the Illinois Department of Agriculture's websiteSimply click on the Gypsy Moth banner on the right side of the homepage and then select "Are You In a Gypsy Moth Treatment Area This Year?" to access maps that are searchable by both address and zip code.


Do you have specific concerns or thoughts about this process? Tell us in the comments.

Sgt. USMC May 10, 2012 at 01:37 AM
So basically the bugs will try and mac on all the lady bugs, only they won't be able to find them? Thats just cruel. They should kill them and put them out of their misery.
Cathy Malchick June 12, 2012 at 03:15 PM
it was very scary not knowing it was going to happen.I thought it was chemical warfare , well almost.


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