BEND, OR -- It's been exactly two years since Central Oregon's last Pandora Moth outbreak, which means it's time for them to return in high numbers. Jim LaBonte, with Oregon's Department of Agriculture, says the High Desert has the perfect conditions for Pandora Moths, "They feed on pines, and there's a lot of pine needles out there to eat. The other thing is, when they're in the right sort of soil situation, which is loose, especially pumicey soil, those are ideal for them to develop into high numbers." And, he says, we're in the midst of a an outbreak that could last several more years, "In 2017, the moths that emerged then laid eggs, those eggs hatched. Caterpillars were feeding on the pine needles, until it got cold, and then they hibernate." They hibernate by burying themselves into the dirt over winter, now they are emerging as the next generation of adult moths. "These major outbreaks often tend to occur on sort of a cyclic basis, and so, they can come around every 20 to 30 years. But then, they can continue for somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight years. We don't have a great idea of what causes the outbreaks."
LaBonte tells KBND News they're not dangerous, although they do cause some damage to pine trees, but he understands why they may make some people uncomfortable, "The thing that sets them apart the most is their ability to reach these incredible numbers, when you get these outbreaks. They're also very large."
Because of their incredible abundance at certain times, Pandora Moths have even been considered a food source, "Especially by the Native Americans. They don't eat the adults because, well, they're pretty fuzzy and covered with scales and hairs, but they have eaten the caterpillars and the pupae." LaBonte says the moths will be here through August, when their two-year life cycle will start all over again. Central Oregon won't see the next generation of adult Pandoras until July of 2021.
Photo: Pandora Moths swarm the CFN gas station in La Pine, July 10, 2019