Northern New Brunswick is currently under siege by a huge infestation of spruce budworm moths. Millions upon millions of the flying creatures have descended upon the Campbellton-Dalhousie area of Northern New Brunswick, while swarms are being seen as far south as Saint John and Shediac, according to Rob Johns, insect ecologist with National Resources Canada (NRCan).
“You can actually see the radar imagery of these big plumes on non-precipitation nights, big plumes of something moving down from the north,” Johns told the CBC.
Up to two inches in length, the moth infestation is a yearly event for New Brunwickers in the Campbellton area, but this year’s onslaught has been much worse, with moths blanketing streets and parking lots and landing on everything in sight.
“Our spruce trees are full of them and they’re still flying around and they stick to you. If you go outside they’re going to stick to you — your hair, your clothes… it’s like they were attacking you,” says Campbellton resident Claudette Winchester.
The infestation is likely due to warm weather bringing the moths down from Northern Quebec, where an outbreak has been ongoing for a number of years.
According to Natural Resources Canada, the recent major outbreak was first detected in 2006 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence river, starting with an estimated 3,000 hectares of damaged forest and doubling in size every year since. At last count, 3.2 million hectares of forest have seen moderate to severe defoliation.
With the spruce budworm, defoliation starts at the tree top and moves downwards as the larvae eat the tree’s needles, flowers and cones, over time weakening the tree and turning entire stands a rusty colour.
NRCan estimates the current New Brunswick infestation at about six million hectares of low-density population coverage in the northeastern region of the province. “As many as 70 or 80 per cent of these can be male moths, which of course are not carrying eggs,” said Johns. “Right now my crew’s up there digging through the thousands and millions of them that are basically sitting over the parking lots in the area.”
Experts are working to control the spread of the outbreak and Johns urges New Brunswickers to be on the lookout for evidence of spruce budworm infestation, such as defoliation or redness on local spruce and fir trees, and to report it to the Budworm Tracker Team, a collaborative group of experts from government, industry and academia, along with a reported 400 citizen scientists, working to track and manage the spread of what has been called the most destructive insect in Eastern Canada’s forests.
“In the past, Canadians haven’t really had the opportunity to get involved in spruce budworm research,” reads a statement from the group. “We want to provide [people] the chance to get involved, create dialogue on our forestry research and do it in a cost effective mechanism.” Set across six Canadian provinces and Maine in the United States, the organization distributes moth traps and has set up a Budworm Tracker App for the public to upload data on their findings.