Several state agencies have announced a new way for Mainers to get information about invasive browntail moths and the health hazards they present.

Browntail moth caterpillar Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Forest Service and 211 Maine announced Thursday that people with questions can contact 211 Maine to speak to a specialist about browntail moth biology, management, pesticide options, health concerns, reducing toxic hair exposure, and potential public policy and economic impacts.

The announcement said that 211 Maine will serve as the “hub” for all state agencies involved in browntail moth issues.

The Maine Forest Service says this could be the worst year yet for the invasive species, exposing greater numbers of people to the poison ivy-like rash and respiratory problems caused by contact with the caterpillars’ hair. Maine and Massachusetts are the only states known to have browntail moths.

Tiny browntail moth caterpillars are now emerging from their winter webs at the tops of trees. They particularly like oaks. In two years, the range of high-risk areas for infestation has expanded from Brunswick, Topsham and Freeport to Yarmouth, Falmouth, Gardiner, Boothbay Harbor, Auburn, Nobleboro, Richmond and many other towns. The caterpillars haven’t reached Portland in high numbers yet, but every year they slink closer to infesting the city, Scarborough and Westbrook.

During high season, the nearly microscopic-sized caterpillar hairs that are toxic to human skin get caught up in the wind and can cause health problems to nearly anyone near trees, especially oak trees. While a bad rash that’s similar in intensity to poison ivy is most common, some can suffer respiratory problems as well.

Hairs can remain toxic for one to three years in the environment, but lose their toxicity over time.

Browntail moth caterpillars are dark brown with two red-orange dots on the back and white stripes along the sides.

Those looking for more information about browntail moth can call 211 (866-811-5695), text their ZIP code to 898-211 or email [email protected]


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