HOLLIS — Some nature advocates are worried that Maine residents are killing the wrong caterpillar as they seek to wipe out an invasive species that causes a rash with its toxic hairs.

A browntail moth caterpillar Maine CDC photo

The browntail moth caterpillar is an invasive pest that can cause a rash and respiratory distress in humans. They’re expected to be especially bad this year because of weather conditions.

Destroying the caterpillars’ nests is one way to mitigate their spread. However, some residents are destroying the nests of Eastern tent caterpillars, which are a different species, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Tent caterpillars serve as important forage food for Maine birds, Maine Audubon said. Unlike browntail moths, they’re native to North America.

As for browntail moths, it’s too late to destroy their nests because they’re no longer occupied at this time of the year, said Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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