The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is recommending treatment for over 5,000 acres to get a better handle on a tree-killing insect.

Based on egg mass surveys conducted from August to December, NJDA has laid out an outline for its 2023 program to put a dent in the population of spongy moths.

NOTE: For decades, these pests have been known as gypsy moths. The Entomological Society of America changed its name in March 2022, as the previous label contained an ethnic slur. NJDA commonly refers to the insect by its Latin name, Lymantria dispar dispar (LDD).

"By treating these areas now, it will help prevent the spread of this insect and significantly reduce its populations for years to come," said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher.

If towns agree to participate in the program, the spray treatment will occur in May and June. Municipalities put out the full cost up front and hope that the federal government agrees to pay 50% of the tab on the back end.

The 5,100 acres recommended for treatment in 2023 are spread across a combined eight municipalities in Burlington, Cape May, and Ocean Counties. Burlington and Cape May were the only counties cited for treatment in 2022.

Gypsy Moths
A spongy moth (formerly known as gypsy moth) caterpillar walks along partially eaten leaves of a tree in Trenton. (AP Images)

Officials use a biological insecticide that kills the LDD caterpillar when ingested.

Ryan Rieder, chief of NJDA's bureau of plant, pest and disease control, said they need to time the treatment right, in order to see the greatest impact. They want the tree leaves to be expanded enough to hold the treatment, and they want the caterpillars to be on the younger end, so that they are more susceptible to the bacterium's effects.

"It's a suppression program, it's never going to eradicate them," Rieder said.

LDD prefer oak trees, but the caterpillars can be found feeding on almost any tree. Just a season or two of LDD damage could kill a tree.

"It's likely to come back to some degree in other areas, so we just continue to monitor. And when we find it, have a plan for suppression," Rieder said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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