Gypsy Moth

Lymantria dispar


Image of a gypsy moth
MDC Staff

Erebidae (a noctuid family containing the tiger and lichen moths)


Adults vary by sex. Males have regular scalloped lines parallel to the wing edges and are smaller than females. Females are cream-colored with a larger body, with the same scalloped lines on the wing as the male. Two species could be confused with male gypsy moths: Tussock moths have erratic diamond patterns on the wings and are smaller. Underwing moths have erratic zigzag lines on the wings and are larger. Gypsy moth larvae are grayish-brown with yellow lateral lines, conspicuous red and blue warts (five pairs of blue in front, then six pairs of red) and thin, unequal tufts and many long hairs.


Wingspan: 1–2½ inches; larvae can grow up to 2 inches long.


Video of gypsy moth - male (brown), female (white), and caterpillar. (footage courtesy USDA Forest Service)
Habitat and conservation

Specimens of this extremely destructive pest species have been found on several occasions in Missouri, but no infestations are known to occur in the state so far. This species was introduced from Europe in the late 1860s, and many eastern states have severe infestations causing millions of dollars in damages to deciduous forests and shade trees. Please learn to recognize this moth and its larvae. Watch for and report any occurrences of this extremely destructive pest in our state.


The larvae of this species will defoliate many deciduous trees and even attacks pines. Because the larvae particularly like to eat oak leaves, our Missouri forests, with their abundance of oaks, could be hard hit. Some biologists estimate that the gypsy moth will hit our state by 2030, but we want to hold it off as long as possible.

image of Gypsy Moth Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Sporadic occurrences. Hopefully we can keep this species from establishing itself in our state.


Extremely destructive, invasive, non-native species.

Life cycle

Egg masses are about an inch long, buff- or cream-colored, fuzzy, and are often plastered onto trees, rocks and other objects, looking like a gum wad under a chair. If you travel to an infested state, including the entire northeast to Michigan and Wisconsin, Ohio and Virginia, as well as Arkansas, check your vehicle and other items for these egg masses and pupae so you don’t spread them. The eggs overwinter, and the hungry larvae hatch out in spring when the trees are budding out.

Human connections

The gypsy moth was brought to America by a man hoping to mate them with silkworms to create a hardier, more productive silk-bearer. When some of his gypsy moths escaped, that’s when the trouble began. This sad story teaches us to be extremely careful about moving species, even when profits beckon.

Ecosystem connections

It’s hard to think of a value for this species, but back in Europe and Asia, it had a balanced role in its home ecosystem. In North America, however, its defoliation and killing of trees wrecks entire ecosystems, effecting all the plants, insects, birds, mammals and others that live there.