AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is asking the public to keep its eyes open for winter moths and report sightings.

Winter moth defoliation was first recorded in the state in 2012, according to a statement released Wednesday. According to an aerial survey, heavy defoliation was occurring in Cumberland County, while light to heavy defoliation was seen in scattered locations from Kittery to Rockland.

Commissioner Walt Whitcomb stressed that filling out a simple online survey set by the department to report winter moth sightings is very important.

“These reports are critical to building the bigger picture of this insect’s distribution,” Whitcomb said. “A healthy forest is key to Maine’s forest economy. Citizen involvement in monitoring invasive pests is important to the future of rural Maine.”

Adult moths are active from late November to January — whenever the temperature is above freezing. Male moths are small and light brown to tan in color. They are attracted to lights and a chemical released by the females, according to the news release. Adult females are small, gray and look like a mosquito wearing a fur coat. They have reduced wings and are flightless. Females are most commonly found crawling on the trunks of trees.

The larvae, or caterpillars, of winter moths defoliate deciduous trees and shrubs, including oaks, maples, apples and blueberries, in early spring. Heavy defoliation for several consecutive years leads to branch dieback and tree mortality. Winter moth defoliation has contributed to tens of thousands of acres of oak mortality in Massachusetts, according to the news release.

Because moths tend to fly after dark and with the sun setting around 4 p.m. in December, people are still out after dark this time of year and moths may be flying.

An online survey detecting moth sightings can be found at Reports also can be called in at 287-2431.

Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective...