JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – State agriculture officials have proposed a plan to disrupt the mating of an invasive species of moth in Northeast Tennessee.

A release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) states that the plan would involve an “aerial application of spongy moth mating pheromone in Johnson County” in the spring of 2023.

Spongy moths, previously known as gypsy moths, are an invasive species whose population has “surged in East Tennessee,” the TDA stated. After surveys conducted in 2022 found a large presence in the region, the TDA began looking for methods to stop the growth.

The proposed pheromone plan would ideally disrupt the moths’ mating practices, thereby halting population growth. The deployment of the pheromone impedes the male moths’ ability to find a female (who are flightless) and mate.

The TDA stated that use of the pheromone is a commonly-practiced method elsewhere, and the pheromone has no known impact on humans or other wildlife.

Photo: TDA’s Division of Forestry Brandon Stout, Forestry Aide 2, checks a spongy moth trap at a campground in Johnson County. (Courtesy of the TDA)

State Forester David Arnold said a high population of spongy moths can be detrimental to Tennessee’s trees.

“The spongy moth is an exotic, invasive insect pest that is one of the greatest threats to Tennessee’s forests,” Arnold said in the release. “High populations of this moth can result in widespread tree defoliation and over consecutive years, that can lead to tree decline. This treatment will protect the forest by reducing the population of this invasive pest.”

According to the TDA, spongy moths prefer the foliage of oak species, but several other trees also attract them. The department noted that “severe spongy moth defoliation” can be costly for homeowners who may need to remove dead trees from their properties. The spongy moths can also have a direct impact on the quality of hardwood used in timber products, the TDA reports.

An open house will be held at the Johnson County Courthouse in Mountain City on April 4. It is scheduled for 4:30-6:30 p.m., and citizens are invited to come learn more about the process. Anyone with questions is also asked to contact Hannah Hollowell, Forest Health Program Specialist with the Tennessee Division of Forestry by emailing