Franklin Countys First News

Mainers urged to take precautions against Browntail Moth Hairs when outside

Browntail moth caterpillar.

AUGUSTA - The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Forest Service and 211 Maine remind the public to take precautions now that browntail moth caterpillars are emerging from their webs in trees. The caterpillars are covered with tiny hairs, which are shed and can become airborne, potentially causing a skin reaction like poison ivy and trouble breathing if inhaled.

Many Mainers are spending increased time outdoors for recreation and yard maintenance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may put them at increased risk of contact with these toxic hairs. All counties in southern, midcoast, Down East, and south-central Maine are at some risk of browntail moth exposure.

The greatest risk for exposure to the toxic hairs is from now through July when the moths are active. The hairs can land anywhere, including on trees, gardens, lawns and decks. The hairs remain toxic in the environment for one to three years, and can be stirred up by activities like mowing, raking and sweeping.

Most affected individuals develop a localized rash that lasts from a few hours to several days. In more sensitive individuals, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by exposure to browntail moth hairs. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and eliminating ongoing exposure.

Browntail moth caterpillars are easy to identify. They are dark brown with white stripes along the sides and two red-orange dots on the back. Younger caterpillars may lack the white stripes.

Steps Mainers can take to protect themselves from browntail moth hairs:

  • Avoid places infested by caterpillars.
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in infested areas.
  • Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs embedding into clothing.
  • When performing activities outdoors that may stir up caterpillar hairs:
    • Choose damp days or wet vegetation with a hose. The moisture helps keep the hairs from becoming airborne.
    • Cover face with a respirator, if available, and goggles.Take extra care to avoid activities that stir up hairs.
      • If respirators are difficult to obtain, perform outdoor activities with a cloth face covering, which may reduce the risk of inhaling caterpillar hairs.
    • Wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles

For more information:

  • Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths:
    • Dial 211 (or 207-874-2211)
    • Text your ZIP code to 898-211
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4 Responses »

  1. Are you serious! Do you have children? Why not publish actual deterrents that can be managed by everyone... or quite possibly offer real solutions. Dont be an ostrich... I am so sick of your one size fits all solutions. First you do it and let me know how it works for you. And while your at it maybe advise giving your pets a bath every time they come in.

  2. Your tax dollars at work folks. Simple old time solution-take down visible nests and burn them. You know, personal responsibility. Help your neighbors eliminate any visible nests. That word 'protect' is about controlling you.

  3. For more information:

    Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths:
    Dial 211 (or 207-874-2211)
    Text your ZIP code to 898-211

    This is great....we can’t fix the phones at unemployment so people can eat- but we have not one but two ways to get more info from the state about.....caterpillars. Simply unreal.

  4. Great....between killer wasps, caterpillars and covid, it's looking like we will not even be able to go outside this summer....confined to the house day in and day out is going to kill us all anyway!!

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