JEFFERSON CITY, MO. State and federal officials are setting traps across Missouri's wooded areas, hoping to catch a thief.
This is not your typical thief. This villain, the gypsy moth, preys on forests, robbing trees of leaves and the ability to withstand the elements and fend off predators and disease.
"The gypsy moth is of particular concern to agriculture and conservation officials," said Mike Brown of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. "They have a voracious appetite for tree leaves and can denude and weaken trees, especially the oaks that are so prevalent in Missouri. If a population becomes established, they can destroy forest resources, which reduces food supplies for wildlife and causes soil erosion."
Since eradication is virtually impossible once the insects become widely established, the annual trapping is a critical prevention program.
"What we find in the traps will let us know whether we have a problem that requires immediate attention, or whether we're in good shape for another year," Brown said. "This is one of the few times that a trapper hopes to return to an empty trap."