According to the Maine Forest Service on, the browntail moth overwinters as caterpillars in colonies that are enclosed within webbed nests of white silk tightly woven around a leaf in trees or shrubs. These browntail moth nests are in a crabapple tree in Brewer. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Orono wants residents to report sightings of browntail moth nests so the town can dispatch public works crews to chop them down, and so it has a better handle on where the invasive pests are popping up.

Orono is trying to take advantage of a short window to make a dent in the browntail moths’ population before the caterpillars start coming out of their nests as the weather warms. It’s an example of the approach more places in the Bangor area are taking to address the invasive insects before they evolve into another itchy scourge. Last year, the moths that customarily inhabited Maine’s coastal counties spread across the state, marking the intensification of a multiyear outbreak that started in 2018.

Orono last month completed a new website to track browntail moth nest sites. Residents can use the website to report where they’ve seen nests, and those sightings then populate a map.

So far, Orono has had 58 sightings of browntail moth nests, and Megan Hess, the town’s new environmental services coordinator, and public works crews have gone out and destroyed some in high-traffic, public areas. 

“Now is the prime time, really, before the spring thaw, because that’s when the caterpillars start coming out of their nests,” Hess said.

The browntail moth caterpillars have toxic hairs that can cause a rash that’s similar in appearance and irritation to poison ivy. The hairs can also cause respiratory troubles. The moths also slowly kill trees by eating all their foliage.

While the town will use some of the data uploaded to its tracker to dispatch crews to destroy nests in public areas, Orono also plans to use the information for the longer-term purpose of tracking the species’ infestation and creating a mitigation plan, Hess said.

Bangor is also asking residents to report sightings of browntail moths. They can report them using the city’s public works request portal. 

“They usually have a flare-up pattern or cyclical flare-up events, and right now we’re kind of in one,” Hess said of the invasive species. 

Newly published research by a team from the University of Maine and the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry found that a continually warming climate likely means browntail moths will only grow worse in Maine

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That is in part because fungi and viruses that kill the creatures grow and develop during cold, damp springs. With a warming climate, Maine is seeing fewer of those types of springs, Hess said. 

If residents find a nest on their property, they should destroy it if they can do so safely, but they should also add the sighting to the town’s database, Hess said. 

“The biggest thing to know is that they are in Orono,” she said. “If you can get them on our public map that would be helpful for the town and the Maine Forest Service.”

Orono recently held a public demonstration at the Orono Middle-High School and Asa Adams Elementary School that showed residents how to identify browntail moth nests and destroy them. 

To destroy the nests, residents need to cut the limbs that contain them, then either burn them or stick the nest in a soapy water solution for several days to kill the moths inside, Hess said. 

If residents can’t safely snip down affected tree limbs they should contact a trained arborist to do the work, she said. 

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...