The moths are back.
Actually, right now, they’re caterpillars. But in their transitional phase, the larvae have prompted the city to close the playground at Janesville’s Lustig Park.
State forestry experts say city and state officials are trying to stem a spongy moth outbreak at Lustig because the leaf-munching caterpillars pose a threat to the health of 100-year-old oak trees in the park.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources invasive forest insects program coordinator Andrea Diss-Torrance said Rock County is one area of the state where forestry experts are starting to see a growing concentration of spongy moths.
The invasive species, which aggressively feeds on defoliates trees, appears to be gradually be moving west from collar counties along Lake Michigan, where the state has set up a quarantine zone for the moth. It now is advancing into counties in the southern, central and northern portions of Wisconsin.
In Janesville, the city has temporarily shut down the playground at Lustig Park, a move officials say is to prevent children from coming into contact with the wooly-looking caterpillars, which carry a histamine in their tiny, barb-like hairs than can cause people to break out in a painful poison ivy-like rash.
The city first discovered the moths in Lustig Park last summer when people started noticing dozens and dozens of egg sacs embedded in the bark of the mature oak trees that abound there.
Last year, the city planned to apply a bacterial insecticide gel to smother and kill the larvae growing in the moth egg sacs.
In May, when the moth larvae hatched, the city’s parks operations division and the DNR coordinated on two aerial applications by helicopter of bacterial insecticide. The aim: to try to knock back the spongy moth larvae population enough to keep it from defoliating and threatening the older oak trees.
Diss-Torrance said the city likely will keep the park’s playground closed until sometime in July, when the caterpillars reach maturity and begin the transition to become moths.
Last year’s drought here gave the spongy moth an advantage in its egg-laying cycle, which led to a surge in moth larvae hatching this year. Diss-Torrance said that’s in part because drought weather like the kind in Rock County last year and earlier this year tends to stress predators that feed on the hundreds of varieties of insects that can live in a single tree.
“They (spongy moths) really like the dry weather, it favors them. It allows their population to grow to the level of an outbreak, because dry weather allows the moths to escape the pressure of natural enemies,” she said.
Diss-Torrance said as state and local arborists statewide use bacterial pesticide sprays combined with tree watering to strengthen trees stressed last year by drought, there’s been a continued uptick in spongy moths in Walworth and Rock counties as well as in a few counties north of Madison.
So far, the treatments seem to be working to knock back the moth population to the point the caterpillars won’t completely denude the trees of leaves later this summer, although some trees at the park are stressed from the caterpillars’ leaf feeding frenzy, Diss-Torrance said.
Old trees, particularly large oaks that have been recently stressed by drought, are particularly susceptible to defoliation.
Diss-Torrance said that as trees are treated to the point that caterpillars eat less than half of their leaves, most can survive some degree of defoliation by spongy moths.
“There are some trees (at Lustig) that are looking very ill,” Diss-Torrance said. “We’re going to do our best, and while we may lose a few tees, the overall plan is to insure that the park retains its trees and to improve the tree health over the next few years.”
In forest ecosystems, spongy moths face predation by deer mice, a rodent that climbs trees to hunt insects. But in urban areas, there are fewer such mice. Often in counties where an upsurge of spongy moths is occurring, people will notice the larvae either in egg sacs, or they’ll start to see defoliation the following year, when the larvae hatch and start to eat tree leaves. That becomes apparent to people faster in public parks.
Diss-Torrance said people should be on the lookout for trees that have discolored or faded-looking leaves, or trees that are increasingly bare of trees in midseason.
She said spongy moths favor oak trees because they have compounds that help protect the moths’ immune systems. Spongy moths also will lay eggs in and live in linden trees, some types of spruces and crabapple trees.
Diss-Torrance said people should call an arborist if they see a tree in their yard with spongy moth larvae. The moth larvae are 1½ inches to 3 inches long, according to state fact sheets on spongy moths. They have bristly hairs and bodies that range from yellowish to almost black with red or blue raised spots on the back.
Diss-Torrance said trees can be saved with treatments. Often, if they become defoliated by larvae early enough in the year, and are well watered they have the ability to grow a second set of leaves later in the summer.
An eaglet has been found after its nest along the Rock River in downtown Janesville collapsed Wednesday afternoon.
State Department of Natural Resources conservation warden Austin Schumacher confirmed to The Gazette Thursday afternoon that the eaglet was alive and in the care of Milton-based Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center director Dianne Moller, who was planning to take it to the clinic for medical evaluation.
A Facebook post from the raptor center Thursday afternoon confirmed that the eaglet had been injured, but did not specify the severity of its injuries.
Moller did not immediately return calls from The Gazette.
The nest, which is located along the river southwest of South Main Street across from the Marling Lumber and Millwork warehouse, is thought to have collapsed due to the nesting tree becoming saturated and then buckling under the weight of the nest, a Facebook post from the raptor center said Thursday morning.
Two adult eagles who frequented the nest were spotted at the tree in the hours following the collapse and appeared unharmed.
Christine M. Adams
William “Bill” E. Greenwald
Dennis “Denny” Hanks
Richard Allen Passon
Susan J. Sippy
All across the world and here in Wisconsin, June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ community and local groups like Janesville Pride, Building a Safer Evansville (BASE) Pride Coalition, Rock County LGBTQ+ and Beloit’s Yellow Brick Road.
In one event held Thursday, Hedberg Public Library in Janesville provided tie-dying stations for people to make their own T-shirts at an event dubbed “Pride-Dye.”
The local groups are planning several other events to help celebrate how far the community has come and the work ahead.
The Gazette spoke with Ali Larson from Janesville Pride and Mark Mellecker from BASE Pride Coalition about Pride Month.
About a year ago today, Larson was combing Facebook to find Pride events locally. Larson said she was given the runaround and finally got responses from some who said they didn’t have any Pride events planned. One person suggested Larson herself form a group.
“I am not one that backs down from a challenge,” Larson said. “I started the Facebook group for Janesville Pride and within a week we had over 1,000 followers. In the short span of a year, we have taken Janesville Pride from a glimmer of hope on the Janesville Community Page to a full-blown 501©(3) nonprofit organization and are planning events around the city throughout the year.”
The Facebook group now has more than 2,000 members. Larson works with multiple partner organization yearly, including BASE, Rock County LGBTQ+, Yellow Brick Road in Beloit and more.
“We kind of hold each other as fans through this whole process and promote each other,” she said. “When it comes to the really big events in October (for LGBTQ History Month), and we all come together to celebrate everyone at the same time.”
Larson said her group is looking forward to the Janesville Pride Picnic at Palmer Park from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. The event is for all ages.
Then, on Monday, the Janesville City Council will consider a resolution recognizing Pride Month, as it has every June since 2017. There will also be nightlife events planned in conjunction with the city’s actions.
“We are putting together a bar crawl downtown in Janesville around the main streets by the river,” Larson said. “Everything from trivia to getting drag queens involved. Then supporting our local bars that support the LGBTQ community.”
Larson also wanted to make sure to do something educational for Pride Month, as well. All throughout the month, she is providing some education on the Janesville Pride Facebook group page on LGBTQ history.
“While we have made incredible steps forward, we still have a really long way to go with trans women’s right and Roe v. Wade being restricted and health care not being available to all when it comes to the queer community and then also with Black Lives Matter.”
Larson added that she wants to focus on what Pride is really meant for and make sure everyone knows its origin.
“The first Pride was a riot that was led by queer, Black trans women of color who were tired of everything that was happening,” Larson said. “And it was stemmed by police brutality. We’re honoring the people that came before us with our campaigns to remind the queer teenagers who may not know who Marsha P. Johnson is or Sylvia Rivera and what those names mean to the community and what the AIDS epidemic was like.”
BASE is a community coalition and was established in 2009 in response to substance abuse concerns, suicide and drunken driving.
“In 2018 we noticed that LGBTQ+ youth had faced larger rates of substance abuse then their non-LGBTQ+ peers,” Mellecker said. “We were noticing alcohol was an issue, across the board substance abuse was up and mental health was up in terrible fashion.”
Following that discovery, the coalition starting doing LGBTQ outreach work in the Evansville community. One part of that outreach work is promoting inclusivity and raising protective factors, he said. According to a recent 2021 BASE survey, almost one in three youth in Evansville identify as LGBTQ.
“While it’s made some people uncomfortable here in Evansville, it’s made more people feel welcome. It’s been really wonderful,” he said. “We started doing Pride Month in 2020, and with the pandemic it changed how we were supposed to do things.”
Last year was the first official Pride Month in Evansville after BASE helped get a proclamation signed by the mayor and a rainbow flag up at City Hall. The Eager Free Public Library in Evansville has has a LGBTQ book display all month long and also has informational handouts, bookmarks, stickers and pins for free. The library also has book recommendations featuring LGBTQ authors, stories and characters.
“We love libraries, but the fact that they’re taking the visibility to the next level and providing an interactive thing, that has been really cool,” he said.
Mellecker also said the coalition is working on a float for the Independence Day parade next month that touches on LGBTQ activism, history and significant people in the community.
“What’s more American than recognizing our history and roots?” he said.
The Beloit-based Yellow Brick Road Organization is planning an event during Pride Month where teens can express themselves and meet new friends in a safe space.
The group will host its first “Queer Prom” event June 17. The prom, with the theme “Steampunk Fairytale,” will be held at The Birch Room on the second floor of 3807 S. Riverside Drive from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets will cost $5 online and $6 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the website yellowbrickrd.org/queerprom.
Yellow Brick Road is an LGBTQ+ nonprofit group in Beloit. This organization has hosted a variety of events throughout the year spreading the message of inclusion.
They co-organized a Black Lives Matter Pride rally in 2020. The organization also hosted a Ride for Pride Car Parade in the past.
“This is the first year Yellow Brick Road is hosting a Queer Prom,” said, Meghan Trimm, Yellow Brick Road vice president.
Queer Prom is an event for teens who are members of the LGBTQ community or allies.
“Queer Prom is primarily a dance,” Trimm noted. “Teens can nominate each other for prom royalty and we will crown three royals that night. There also will be concessions. It should be very fun and a great opportunity for youth to meet other LGBTQ+ people their age and have some fun.”
There also will be a musical performance by Kat and the Hurricane, who are supporters of the organization.