CHICAGO -- Illinois agriculture officials say they are finding more and more evidence that the long-feared infestation of tree-killing gypsy moths has arrived.
The leaf-loving creatures, which are about the size of pencil stubs, hang off trees by the hundreds and can strip away a mature oak tree's leaves in a day.
Last month, volunteers found 18,249 moths in 7,000 traps statewide. That's about 2,000 more moths than last year, said state gypsy moth program director Jim Cavenaugh. That number could signal the start of a larger invasion that has been expected for years, he said.
The highest concentrations of the moths are in Roselle, Downers Grove, Lakemoor and Batavia.
State and federal biologists are plotting the moths' growth on a computerized map to study their movement, gauge the success of past preventive efforts and determine where to focus springtime spraying of moth-killing bacteria. In January, agriculture officials will develop a battle plan for 2002.
Lake County is already under a state quarantine, meaning local tree and shrub growers have to spray their plants and have them inspected before being allowed to ship the goods outside the county. The state may expand its quarantine area this year to include McHenry County, Cavenaugh said. And, said Cavenaugh, DuPage County may be under quarantine within a couple of years.
Other states including Wisconsin already have lost large forest tracts to the moths.