A browntail moth. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is interested in collecting data to track the spread of these moths and caterpillars. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of | Star-Herald

Maine officials are reminding the public to take precautions now that browntail moth caterpillars are emerging from their webs in trees.

The caterpillars are covered with tiny hairs, which are shed and can become airborne, potentially causing a skin reaction like poison ivy. They can also cause breathing trouble if inhaled.

The greatest risk for exposure to the toxic hairs is from now through July when the moths are active.

Most affected individuals develop a rash that lasts from a few hours to several days, but can last for weeks in sensitive individuals. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious.