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UK scientists: Kentuckians should watch out for box tree moths, considered 'serious invasive insect'

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Posted at 10:29 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 10:29:34-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — University of Kentucky entomologists are warning Kentuckians to watch out for a "potentially serious insect pest" on a plant that's extremely popular in the state.

If you own a boxwood plant, officials say you should monitor it for any damage from box tree moths, especially in young plants.

"The box tree moth is another emerging pest that has the potential to have serious economic impacts for the state's green industry," said Jonathan Larson, extension entomologist with the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Box tree moth females lay their eggs on the backs of boxwood leaves. During the caterpillar stage, they feed on leaves, move to the stem, and eventually kill the plant.

The moth is originally from east Asia and has been in Europe since 2006. Scientists refer to it as a "serious invasive insect" as it spreads. The moth has been in Canada since 2018.

Entomologists say potentially thousands of boxwoods, infected by the moth, entered the U.S. from Canada in May. These shipments went to Tennessee, South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, and Ohio.

While Kentucky did not receive an infested shipment, officials say potentially infested boxwoods were found in nine Kentucky landscapes. Those homeowners allowed the plants to be taken and destroyed to prevent a widespread infestation.

However, entomologists warn that once the box tree moth hatches, they live for about two weeks, so Kentuckians could see several generations from now until September.

Damage to look out for includes translucent leaves and webs on leaves similar to those of a tent caterpillar. Additional signs include chewed, cut, or missing leaves, yellowing or brown leaves, and green-black excrement on or around the plant. The caterpillars are green and yellow with white, yellow, and black stripes and black spots. Moths have brown borders around their wings and white centers.

If you suspect any damage from the box tree moth or see the caterpillars, contact Larson at jonathan.larson@uky.edu or your local USDA office. They can confirm an infestation and destroy any infested plants.