Indiana Department of Natural Resources says what was sprayed onto a Wayne County area from a plane to keep moths from breeding was nontoxic and didn’t harm humans, animals or the environment.  

Some U.S. 40 motorists could see a plane flying low to the ground on Centerville’s eastern edge on the morning of Monday, June 19. The approximately 6,000-acre area receiving spray was in southeast Wayne County. 

According to a news release, DNR officials say SPLAT GM-O is an organic, nontoxic, biodegradable formulation to control spongy moths (formerly known as gypsy moths) through mating disruption. 

SPLAT GM-O is made entirely of food-grade materials and has the consistency of hand cream. 

Environmental Protection Agency lists all of its ingredients as safe. 

DNR officials say the pheromone is an effective and safe method to control spongy moths without impacting other insects, mammals or the surrounding environment. 

“Pheromones are nontoxic compounds that insects use to communicate, similar to the way humans use language,” the release said. “Applying pheromone to a field confuses the insects, removing their ability to mate and controlling populations in a completely nonlethal manner.”

DNR calls the spongy moth one of North America’s most devastating invasive forest pests. It evolved in Europe and Asia and was accidentally introduced near Boston, Massachusetts, in the late 1860s by an amateur entomologist. 

The moths feed on the foliage of hundreds of species of trees and shrubs but prefers oak trees.

When populations reach high levels, feeding caterpillars can completely defoliate trees. Several successive years of defoliation, plus other stress factors, often result in tree death.

DNR says spongy moths can be “an expensive, messy problem for homeowners and, when out of control, can cause extensive damage to U.S. forests.”

Planes or helicopters flying 100 to 200 feet above treetops spray SPLAT GM-O over areas where moth control is desired. 

An average of 46 grams of SPLAT GM-O is used per acre of forest. That’s about the equivalent of three tablespoons of sugar (the amount in a can of Coca-Cola) being spread over an acre. 

DNR had mailed cards to residences near the spray area to let them know the treatment would be applied. 

Areas of Allen, Huntington, Whitley and Starke counties also are receiving SPLAT GM-O treatments.   

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A version of this article appeared in the June 26 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.