COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Low-flying yellow planes will soon spray a pheromone treatment over tree canopies in Upper Arlington and Hilliard.

Scientists renamed the gypsy moth to spongy moth last summer, but the treatment against it remains the same. The non-toxic product released by the planes disrupts the mating of the small, brown moths by mimicking the female’s scent.

The spray is Ohio’s strategy to help stem the tide of the moths before they emerge in July and lay eggs in September. Marked as an invasive species, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the insect first came to the U.S. in 1869 as an import to make silk. What people back then didn’t plan for was the appetite of the moth’s larvae.

Dan Kenny, Chief of the Division of Plant Health for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, says the egg mass of the moth is spongy; the name change of the small brown moth represents that.

“They can defoliate oak trees,” said Kenny. “There’s a national cooperative program called ‘slow the spread of spongy moth’ that aims to limit the spread of the moths to protect our trees.”

Southern Ohio has a valuable crop of oak trees to protect, and Central Ohio’s program helps to ensure those oaks remain healthy, Kenny explained. The USDA said spongy moth larvae have eaten away 83 million acres of trees and shrubs since 1970. A healthy tree can usually withstand only two years of defoliation before it is permanently damaged or dies.

According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the following areas will receive treatments between June 15 to 17, weather permitting:

  • Licking County: Hanover 1 and 2, Hickman, Perryton, Utica, Newark
  • Knox County: Hunt, Martinsburg
  • Franklin County: Northwest Columbus (Upper Arlington, Hilliard areas)

In all areas receiving treatments, ODA said it will use a single application of the product SPLAT GM-O. This product does not kill the moth, but it disrupts the mating process by confusing the male as it searches for a female mate. SPLAT is an organic and biodegradable formula that is completely harmless to both humans and animals.

If you come into contact with SPLAT, simply wash the affected area with soap and water. Clothing can be cleaned with hot water and laundry detergent. The product is not harmful to birds, bees, plants, pets or humans.

Ohioans can view maps of treatment blocks at ODA’s Spongy Moth website. When the project begins, daily updates on treatment progress across the state will be available on the website or by calling 614-387-0907 or 614-728-6400.

FILE – In this July 28, 2008, file photo, a female Lymantria dispar moth lays her eggs on the trunk of a tree in the Salmon River State Forest in Hebron, Conn. In July 2021, the Entomological Society of America announced it is dropping the common name of this destructive insect that is also an ethnic slur against a group of people: the gypsy moth. (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)