The milllions of moths that have been carpeting parking lots, cars and even people in the Campbellton-Dalhousie area over the past couple of days are likely related to the dreaded spruce budworm.

Rob Johns, an insect ecologist with Natural Resources Canada, says the influx seems to be a migration of spruce budworm moths and is likely due the current weather conditions.

“These naturally warm weather conditions tend to cause updrafts, which allow the moths to be pulled up into the atmosphere and they can be carried hundreds of kilometres away.”

Johns says this mass migration is likely coming down from the Baie Comeau area of Quebec, which is experiencing a spruce budworm outbreak.

There are so many moths in the air they can be seen on radar on the Environment Canada weather site, Johns says.

“You can actually see the radar imagery of these big plumes on non-precipitation nights, big plumes of something moving down from the north.”

Massive defoliation

Spruce budworm caused massive defoliation in the province in the 1970s and ’80s, and although it has been on a downward trend since then, over the past few years scientists have begun warning of another serious outbreak.

Johns says there is an outbreak happening right now in the province, covering about six million hectares of land, especially in the northeast, but so far it’s only a low-density population of insects.

However, these swarms of moths are not necessarily a sign of an escalation in the problem.

“As many as 70 or 80 per cent of these can be male moths, which of course are not carrying eggs,” said Johns.

“Right now my crew’s up there digging through the thousands and millions of them that are basically sitting over the parking lots in the area.”

He says his group is looking at these hotspots to prevent the budworm from spreading to other areas, ” not unlike how you might treat the leading edge of a forest fire.”

‘Wise to be vigilant’

These kinds of mass events are not unprecedented, says Johns, and while they don’t necessarily lead to a major budworm outbreak “it’s wise to be vigilant.”

He is urging the public to check their fir and spruce trees for signs of redness or defoliation or to get involved by collecting any moths they see; bagging, dating and freezing them and arranging for pickup.

“We have people trapping for us using pheromone traps. We’ve had reports of them from as far down as Saint John and Shediac.”

Johns suggests anyone interested in getting involved should go to budworm for more information.