Outbreak of Toxic Browntail Moth Caterpillars Plagues Maine

Whereas components of the nation cope with swarms of cicadas this summer season, Maine is fighting an infestation of an invasive species of caterpillar with toxic hairs that may trigger folks to develop painful rashes and even respiration issues.

The caterpillars, often known as browntail moths, are about 1.5 inches lengthy and have white dashes down their sides and two pink dots on their backs.

Browntail moths are most typical alongside Maine’s coast and on Cape Cod, however they’ve been noticed this 12 months in all of Maine’s 16 counties, mentioned Jim Britt, a spokesman for the Maine Division of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

“Persons are discovering them everyplace: on the bottom, on the picnic desk, on {the electrical} field, on the nook — you title it,” Mr. Britt mentioned. “They’re closely current. Of us will see them throughout.”

“After a pandemic year, while we are finally able to start getting out and socializing, this is the last thing we want to be dealing with,” the mayor, Jay Coelho, said at the meeting, adding that he had received several emails from Waterville residents with pictures of painful rashes.

The caterpillars spend the winter in oak trees and other hardwood trees, and emerge in the spring, Mr. Britt said.

Browntail moths are not new to Maine, which has had them for a century. The caterpillars originally came from Massachusetts, but ended up in Maine “because they’re expert hitchhikers,” Mr. Britt said.

While it’s unclear what exactly caused this recent infestation, Mr. Britt said dry conditions are “absolutely ideal” for browntail moths to expand their reach.

During the Waterville emergency meeting, a City Council member, Thomas Klepach, expressed concern that climate change could worsen infestations in years to come.

“It is wise for the city to get the outbreak under control as much as we can now,” Mr. Klepach said, “and to recognize that this may be on ongoing problem.”

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services recommends showering and changing clothes after being in areas with browntail moths, wearing a mask and goggles when doing outdoor activities, such as raking leaves, and doing yardwork on wet days.

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