Browntail moth caterpillar displaying the distinctive two red dots and prickly, toxic hairs, hitchhiking to a new home. Courtesy Maine Forest Service

The Maine Forest Service is asking everyone to check cars, trucks, boats, bikes, ATVs and other vehicles for wandering browntail moth caterpillars.

“Now through late June, browntail moth caterpillars become expert hitchhikers,” the Forest Service stated in a press release. “When they catch a ride, the browntail moth may set up house in a new area and cause irritation to people and destroy foliage on trees and shrubs at their new location.”

The service states that if a browntail moth caterpillar is discovered before leaving an already infested area, it may be left on-site or destroyed. Caterpillars found after leaving the infested area should be eliminated. The best way to kill the caterpillar is to capture it in a plastic bag or another container, freeze it or soak it in a bucket of soapy water before disposing of it in the trash.

The Forest Service also advises avoiding parking and storing materials and equipment near infested trees.

Browntail moths were accidentally introduced into Somerville, Massachusetts from Europe in 1897. By 1913, the insect spread to all New England states and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Maine is experiencing a browntail moth outbreak. The caterpillars are found in patches along the coast and more than 60 miles inland from the western Maine border to the New Brunswick border, with the greatest concentrations in the Midcoast and capital region.

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