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What is the Light Brown Apple Moth?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) is a type of moth which is widely viewed around the world as a pest, due to the damage it inflicts on agricultural crops. These insects are native to Australia, and they have been identified in a number of locations around the world, including New Zealand and Hawaii. Canada and the United States view the Light Brown Apple Moth as a noxious pest, using a variety of techniques to identify potential infestations and to attempt to control them, and the moths are checked for during routine agricultural inspections.

As you might imagine from the name, the LBAM is light brown in color, with a mottled pattern which helps it camouflage itself. These moths are classified as lepidopterans, placing them in the same order as butterflies, and they are in the family Tortricidae, which includes a number of agricultural pests. Formally, the Light Brown Apple Moth is known as epiphyas postvittana.

The problem with the Light Brown Apple Moth stems from its prodigious appetite. These moths can do a significant amount of damage to foliage and fruit, and they breed quickly, making it easy for them to infest an area. The larvae are able to over-winter in severe conditions, in which case as soon as spring arrives, they will start to consume the tender new leaves of the trees they infest, potentially preventing farmers from collecting a crop.

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Tests in 2007 identified the Light Brown Apple Moth in several regions of California, sparking a public controversy. Several government agencies immediately sprayed to prevent infestation, while others proposed widespread spraying, especially around the cities of San Francisco and Santa Cruz, where the moths are heavily concentrated. The populations of these cities are well known for their alternative lifestyles and participation in activist causes, and the result of the spraying proposals was explosive, with citizens registering a firm and angry opposition to any plans for spraying.

Opponents of aggressive measures against the Light Brown Apple Moth believe that there are pesticide-free alternatives which could be used to limit or prevent infestation by the moths. Some people also suggest that the Light Brown Apple Moth might actually be beneficial, as the moths could be encouraged to eat invasive plants such as Scotch broom and gorse, which many areas devote substantial funds to removing every year. The fact that the Light Brown Apple Moth has not devastated the notoriously fragile agriculture of Hawaii suggests that it is possible to control it without drastic measures.

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