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History of Gypsy Moth in North America

1860s - Introduction to North America

Gypsy moths don't belong in North America. They are native to parts of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa and were first brought to the United States in the 1860s. Trouvelot, a French scientist, wanted to breed gypsy moths with silk moths with the hopes of creating a lucrative silk market in the United States. He chose gypsy moths because, unlike silk moths which are very particular about what they eat, gypsy moths feed on leaves of over 500 types of trees and shrubs. Trouvelot believed that a cross between the two moth species would create a hardy silk-producer that would be easy to raise and inexpensive to feed. Unfortunately for Trouvelot, silk moths and gypsy moths are not even in the same insect family and cannot breed with each other. Although his dreams of creating a lucrative silk market in the United States were never fulfilled, Trouvelot did unintentionally start another multi-million dollar industry - that of gypsy moth control.


In 1869, while Trouvelot was working with gypsy moths, a small number of the insects escaped near his Bedford, Massachusetts home. Trouvelot knew enough about gypsy moths at that point to be concerned about their escape and reported the breakout to local authorities. He even wrote about the escape in scientific journals but no-one seemed concerned about a few tiny caterpillars. Trouvelot eventually returned to France.
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