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Mainers Urged to Avoid Poisonous Browntail Moths


Thursday, June 17, 2021   

WATERVILLE, Maine - Maine is facing another outbreak of browntail moths, an invasive caterpillar species with tiny hairs that are poisonous to humans.

Contact with a browntail moth can cause rashes or even respiratory issues in some people.

Jim Britt - communications director with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry - noted reactions differ from person to person. It doesn't bother some people at all, while others may develop a poison-ivy-like rash or even have difficulty breathing if the caterpillars' hairs are inhaled.

"And we're currently experiencing a population outbreak," said Britt. "And the continued drought-like conditions, hot, dry conditions, are contributing to the population growth and spread throughout the state."

The state puts out signage alerting people about the presence of browntail moths in outdoor spaces, so Britt recommended keeping an eye out for those and of course, avoiding the areas. He added it's also helpful to do yard work on wet days and avoid hanging laundry to dry outdoors.

Britt noted that browntail moths wait out winters in webs, typically visible in the canopies of hardwood trees, like oaks and maples, which are their food source.

"We should be clipping those webs in the wintertime, clipping them and destroying them," said Britt. "By doing so, you are removing a nest of browntail moths that will emerge later in the spring; you're removing them from the outbreak."

The town of Waterville recently declared browntail moths a public emergency because so many residents were coming into contact with them.

Britt added that browntail moths have existed in Maine for more than a century. They're most common near the coastline, and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, but this year, they've been identified in all 16 Maine counties.

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