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Browntail moth caterpillars are emerging from webs

A browntail moth caterpillar.
Jim Dill
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
A browntail moth caterpillar.

Browntail moth caterpillars are starting to emerge from their winter webs, and both the Maine CDC and the state Forest Service are advising people to take precautions as they head outdoors.

The caterpillars shed tiny hairs that can cause poison ivy-like rashes and breathing problems if inhaled. The hairs remain toxic for three years and can be stirred up by mowing, raking, and sweeping.

Over the past two years, evidence of webs have been found in every county in Maine.

"So if the populations of caterpillars stay reasonably healthy, then we can expect it to be worse than in previous years," says state entomologist Allison Kanotti.

She says there's still time to eradicate the webs.

"If you have webs that are down within reach, then it may be possible to wear protective clothing, including gloves, and remove those webs and caterpillars and put them into a bucket of soapy water," she says.

Webs that are out of reach need to be treated with pesticides at this time of year, says Kanotti.

She also advises to wear protective clothing outdoors and avoid infested areas, especially on dry, windy days. More information on how to protect against, identify, and manage browntail moth caterpillar populations can be found on the state's CDC and forestrywebsites.