While many Lepidoptera species (butterflies and moths) are colorful and fascinating creatures, there is growing concern about an invasive moth that is quickly spreading across the state of Maine. Browntail moths (Euproctis chrysorrhea) arrived in northern Massachusetts in the 1890s from Europe and Asia, and they have since been discovered in many areas around New England. Over the past few years, their numbers have rapidly increased in coastal Maine, and a nest was recently discovered in nearby Crawford, ME, located along Route 9, less than 20 miles south of the Downeast Lakes Community Forest.
Why the concern? In addition to the fact that this moth is a non-native and invasive species, there are significant health concerns that are associated with browntail moths. Microscopic hairs located on the caterpillar have been known to cause serious skin rashes and even respiratory problems. The hairs can break off caterpillars and nest areas, and remain present on trees, lawns, gardens, decks, and in the air. These hairs can remain toxic for up to three years, so it is essential to use all precaution when dealing with this species “from away.”
At this time of year, browntail moths can be easily identified by their unique winter nests. Their trees and shrubs of preference are oak, apple, cherry, shadbush, and rosa rugosa, so please cautious when working in the yard this spring. For more information and photos on how to identify browntail moth nests, caterpillars, and adults, and how to properly deal with potential infestations, please visit Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s website, or call the Maine Forest Service at (207) 287-2431.