Scotland's woodlands are at risk from a giant Russian moth whose caterpillars can cause large-scale damage to pine forests over thousands of acres, Forestry Commission officials have warned. Forestry Commission Scotland is attempting to halt the spread of a localised population of the insect, the pine-tree lappet moth (Dendrolimus pini).
The caterpillars of the moth Latin name Dendrolimus Pini grow to more than three inches long, and can leave large areas of pine woodland stripped of foliage as they feed voraciously on the needles.
Despite the relatively modest size of the caterpillar, the moth itself is huge females have a wingspan the breadth of a man s hand.
Many of the trees targeted by its caterpillars die because without their needles they become susceptible to diseases, bark beetles and wood-boring insects.
Hugh Clayden, the commission s tree-health policy adviser, said: The potential threat comes from the caterpillars of this large moth, which feed mainly on pine needles and can completely strip trees of their foliage if outbreak conditions arise.
Taking any foliage or woody material away from affected forests could potentially help these moths to move to other areas so we are asking members of the public to assist us by leaving such material in the forest as it could harbour either eggs or caterpillars of the pine-tree lappet moth.
The moth was previously only known in Great Britain from a handful of sightings of individual males in southern England, which are believed to have been migrants from Europe.
Pine-tree lappet s preferred host is the Scots pine. However, it is also known to feed on other conifer species, including Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and larch, all of which are grown commercially in Scotland, contributing to an industry worth £800 million a year.
Forestry Commission Scotland warned that the moth could pose a significant risk to jobs and businesses , particularly in economically fragile rural areas.
The moths were first found in Scotland in a pine plantation to the west of Inverness in 2004 and a breeding population was confirmed in 2009, but the presence of this moth was not reported to the Commission until 2008.
Since then, strict control measures have been put in place to avoid the spread of the destructive insect, which originate in continental Europe, Russia and Asia.
Outbreaks in eastern Europe last up to eight years in some parts of the moth s range.
Studies suggest that climate change over the coming decades may make Scotland especially the drier east of the country a more favourable breeding ground for the moths.
The insects can produce up to 250 eggs each between late May and the middle of August.