In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo, browntail moth nests are seen in a crabapple tree in Brewer. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

With browntail moths spreading further across Maine, a Litchfield company is trying something new to take them down.

The caterpillars’ microscopic, toxic hairs can cause breathing issues and skin irritation like poison ivy.

There’s still a little time left to get rid of them while they’re still in webs on trees, but that process can be time consuming and dangerous.

Once they emerge, which is happening soon, they’re even harder to get rid of.

“A tree can take all day for sure,” said Eben Mann of Mann’s Lumber and Tree, who has been getting rid of browntail moths for 18 years.

“The nests are always way out at the tips of the limbs, and it’s not easy to get out there to trim them manually,” Mann said.

Now instead of climbing up into trees, he’s using a drone and saw attachment to snip them down.

“Well, it all started with a concerned citizen,” DeLeaves co-owner Guillaume Charron said.

A Mainer contacted the Canadian company DeLeaves, thinking its tree sampling tool could be used to combat the invasive species.

The company brought it down to Rockland for a demo late last year.

Mann purchased the drone, a worthwhile investment considering how much he can get to now.

“We can do one or two nests in a couple minutes,” Mann said. “In a 20-minute flight we can do 20 or 30 nests.”

Browntail moths have been in an outbreak phase since 2015, and there can up to 400 caterpillars per nest, according to Jeff Harriman, a resource management coordinator for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

State officials believe they will never be eradicated.

Mann said the demand is sky high, so he wants others to give it a whirl.

Mainers do not need to have an arborist license to do this with a drone. All they need is a remote pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration and the equipment.

“That’s the good news because it opens up the possibilities for people to start doing this,” Charron said.