Friday, February 18, 2022

Signs of woodpeckers and invasive insects on trees in the Taconic Range - Kent, Connecticut

View from Macedonia Ridge Trail - Macedonia Brook State Park, Kent, Connecticut

    In early February 2022, I took a hike at Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent, Connecticut. Kent is located along the southeastern fringe of the Taconic Range. We hiked along the Macedonia Ridge Trail, starting at the southern end of the park and making our way up to Cobble Mountain and then down the Cobble Mountain Trail. The hike was not overly strenuous and just a few miles, but provided some nice views. Being February, we were glad to have remembered our crampons as parts of the trail were covered in ice and slippery slush. However, it was a very mild day with highs in the low fifties and gorgeous hiking weather. 
I heard a few woodpeckers and chickadees during the hike, but was not able to see them or any other wildlife. However, I did observe some interesting wildlife signs worth sharing.

    As we were making our way up the ridge from the parking area, I noticed the sign of a woodpecker, the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), on a large tree. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers leave distinctive lines of holes. I was impressed by the number of holes in this tree. The holes continued all the way up the trunk. As we continued on, many trees bore sapsucker holes. There was even a line of holes between two trail blazes.

Holes made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker in a deciduous tree - Kent, Connecticut

Extent of yellow-bellied sapsucker holes up the trunk of a tall tree - Kent, Connecticut

A row of yellow-bellied sapsucker holes between two blue blazes - Kent, Connecticut

    Making our way up along the rocky ridge, trees became shorter. The tree in the foreground to the left in the photo below is chestnut oak (Quercus montana), which is often found in rocky mountainous areas such as this(1). The reddish hue in the deeply-fissured bark is distinctive for this tree species. You may notice the small tan-colored blobs on this tree. These are not part of the tree, but are another (non-plant) species of interest.

Slightly-stunted trees along a rocky ridge, including chestnut oak - Kent, Connecticut

Closeup of the trunk of a chestnut oak, including lichens and LD moth egg masses - Kent, Connecticut

    The chestnut oaks along the ridge were laden with pupae casings and egg masses of winged insects that were no longer present. With assistance from users of, these were identified as belonging to the invasive spongy moth (Lymantria dispariNaturalist record). This species is widely known as the gypsy moth, but a proposal has been made by the Entomological Society of America to change that name to spongy moth because the word "gypsy" has been used as an ethnic slur(2). The new name refers to the consistency of the moth's egg masses. 

    Spongy moths were introduced to New England over a century ago and their caterpillars feed heavily on the foliage of trees including oaks and aspens(3). The species is native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa(4). We easily observed hundreds of egg masses and pupae casings; trees were covered in them. When caterpillars emerge from egg masses, they consume massive amounts of leaves, to the point of defoliation. Without their leaves, trees can't produce the food they need to grow. This results in slower growth rates and stress, which can be detrimental to tree health, particularly if other stressors are involved(3)This was my first time knowingly encountering this invasive moth species. 

Trunk of a chestnut oak covered in LD moth egg masses and pupae casings, along with lichens - Kent, Connecticut

Closeup of an LD moth egg mass surrounded by lichen on a chestnut oak - Kent, Connecticut

Closeup of LD moth pupae casings - Kent, Connecticut

    Invasive species are ubiquitous throughout much of the world. Here in Connecticut, introduced Eastern cottontails are more common than our native New England cottontailsHouse sparrows occupy seemingly every neighborhood and massive flocks of European starlings are a common sight. Monk parakeets would occasionally perch in a tree in the backyard where I grew up in Stratford. Biologists have documented reproducing populations of red-eared sliders, spiny softshell turtles, and Italian wall lizards in Connecticut, all non-native species(5)

    Invasive invertebrates and plants are far more numerous. In addition to spongy moths, the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle also threaten our trees. Most residents of the state are familiar with Japanese beetles that cling to our screen doors and stink bugs that crawl across our walls during winter. A variety of non-native invertebrates occupy our aquatic ecosystems as well. Our roadsides and hiking trails are often lined with invasive plants including autumn olive, burning bush, and Japanese barberryinvasive aquatic plants are also numerous. In 2007, an invasive fungus was detected in New York and proceeded to spread across the continent while decimating bat populations. Over a century ago, another invasive fungus wiped out what was one of our most abundant and important trees, the American chestnut.

    The list of invasive species present in Connecticut alone is astonishingly large and is a testament to our habit of engaging in short-sighted actions while lacking understanding and consideration of the natural world. All of these species are present because of human activity and ecosystems in Connecticut and worldwide are forever altered, often at our own expense.


References and additional reading:
1. Kershner, B., D. Matthews, G. Nelson, and R. Spellenberg. 2008. National Wildlife Federation field guide to trees of North America. New York: Sterling.
2. Entomological Society of America. 2022. 'Spongy moth' proposed as new common name for Lymantria dispar. Announcements and Press Releases. <>
3. United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Lymantria dispar dispar. <>.
4. CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International). Lymantria dispar (gypsy moth). <>.
5. Klemens, M., H. Gruner, D. Quinn, and E. Davison. 2021. Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles in Connecticut. Hartford: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.