Forget murder hornets. Now we've got giant gypsy moths from Asia to worry about.
"If established in the United States, Asian gypsy moths could cause serious, widespread damage to our country’s landscape and natural resources," the U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning.
One species of gypsy moth that's native to Asia was recently spotted in Washington state, where Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation last week because of the discovery. In the proclamation, he warned that the Hokkaido gypsy moths from Asia have been discovered in parts of Snohomish County, which is northeast of Seattle, according to UPI.
"This imminent danger of infestation seriously endangers the agricultural and horticultural industries of the state of Washington and seriously threatens the economic well-being and quality of life of state residents," the proclamation said.
Both gypsy moths from Asia and Asian-European hybrid gypsy moths threaten the state, according to the proclamation.
Hokkaido gypsy moths are exotic pests that can do widespread damage when hundreds of voracious caterpillars hatch, Karla Salp, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Agriculture, told UPI.
While they are from Asia, Hokkaido gypsy moths are a separate species from so-called Asian gypsy moths, insect ecologist Patrick Tobin of the University of Washington told USA TODAY. Both are considered invasive pests that can wreak havoc on trees. "Both remain similar with regard to the threats they pose and the ability of females to fly," Tobin said.
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Asian gypsy moths are bad enough: "Large infestations of Asian gypsy moths can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. "If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping.
"Any introduction and establishment of Asian gypsy moths in the United States would pose a major threat to the environment and the urban, suburban and rural landscapes."
Could the Hokkaido gypsy moth discovery in Washington state be the start of a nationwide invasion of the pesky pests? "Were it to become fully established and spread widely, it would affect forests and landscape trees and shrubs in the invaded range," University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp told USA TODAY.
The East is used to the European variety of the pest: "We have had gypsy moths here in the Eastern U.S. since the 1860s," Raupp said. The issue in the East is largely under control thanks to a fungus that was imported and released back in the 1980s, he said. The fungus causes a disease that collapses the gypsy moth population in most years.
Other species of Asian moths have invaded the U.S. before, he said. One Asian subspecies has been detected and eradicated in the U.S. at least 20 times from 1991 to 2014 in locations on both the West and East coasts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"So, while this is disagreeable, it is not unique or new, just one more indication that a global economy translates into a global biota," Raupp said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giant Asian gypsy moths are on the attack in Washington state