KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A plan to manage the population of an invasive moth has been proposed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

The spongy moth is an invasive insect, and its population has surged in East Tennessee, according to the Department of Agriculture. A 2022 survey found that there was a significant presence of the spongy moth, formerly known as the gypsy moth, in the region.

To combat the surging population, the Department of Agriculture is wanting to disrupt the moth’s mating practices this spring with an aerial application of the spongy moth mating pheromone. This would happen in Johnson County, according to the news release.

The release explains that releasing the pheromones will have no impact on humans or other wildlife and that it works by reducing the ability of the male moth to find and mate with the flightless, female moth.

It is a common method of controlling the spongy moth populations, the Department of Agriculture added.

The fluttering foe poses a risk to the forests in Tennessee, the USDA says. The spongy moth caterpillars have uncontrollable appetites and could eat more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. The moth also favors oak species, but it is attracted to a wide variety of trees so it could potentially have a dramatic effect on the state’s forests.

“The spongy moth is an exotic, invasive insect pest that is one of the greatest threats to Tennessee’s forests,” State Forester David Arnold said. “High populations of this moth can result in widespread tree defoliation and over consecutive years, that can lead to tree decline. This treatment will protect the forest by reducing the population of this invasive pest.”

The Department of Agriculture says anyone who is interested in learning more about the proposed treatment is invited to an open house on April 4 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse, located at 222 W. Main Street in Mountain City.

More information can also be found on the Slow the Spread Foundation’s website.

The USDA shares that the spongy moth first arrived in the United States from Europe in 1869, and since then, it has been found in at least 20 states. It adds that the moth’s egg masses survive the winter months and can be moved inadvertently on household items or agricultural products, like logs, Christmas trees, outdoor furniture, recreational vehicles and boats.