DES MOINES - State environmental officials say they have captured a record number of gypsy moths, an exotic insect which defoliates and can eventually kill trees.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said 624 male gypsy moths were caught in traps in 2008, more than tripling the 175 caught the previous year.
The DNR notes that the gypsy moth is not considered to be established in Iowa. The agency says it will work with federal officials and the Gypsy Moth Slow the Spread Foundation to develop management options.
Environmental officials said in a news release that the gypsy moth is "one of the most notorious defoliating pests of the eastern hardwoods."
The moth's larvae feed on the leaves of more than 300 types of trees, leaving the trees unable to produce enough food. Years of the defoliation can kill trees.
The DNR said it was also a record catch year of gypsy moths in neighboring states, with Minnesota trapping three times the number as its previous record. Across the Mississippi River from Allamakee and Clayton counties, Wisconsin also is reporting higher numbers of trapped male moths.
Environmental officials say the statewide trapping program and follow-up treatments have kept the gypsy moth from becoming established in Iowa.
DNR officials said gypsy moth larvae were brought to the United States more than 100 years ago to help provide silk for the textile industry. But, over time, they have escaped and continued to spread.