The tell-tale red-orange dots on the back of browntail moth caterpillars make it easy to identify them. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

The browntail moth is becoming more of a problem in Maine. But you don’t have to struggle alone.

What are browntail moths?

Browntail moths are the adult stage of the browntail moth caterpillar and an invasive species in Maine.

The browntail moth caterpillar has tiny poisonous hairs that can cause skin irritation, which is similar to the reaction that poison ivy brings. The skin can become irritated from direct contact with the hairs, from hairs that have been shed on other surfaces or hairs that have become airborne.

The hairs can become airborne if a live or dead caterpillar is disturbed, or if its molted skin is moved around. Shed hairs can remain toxic for up to three years, the Maine Center of Disease Control and Prevention warns.

The rash from contacting the caterpillar hairs can last anywhere from several hours to several days, but some people may experience a rash that lasts several weeks, according to the Maine CDC. Hairs are also barbed, which allows them to become embedded within the skin if the affected area is scratched or rubbed.

If the hairs are inhaled, they can cause serious respiratory distress.

The caterpillar stage of the browntail moth typically lasts from April to June.

The presence of the moth has been classified as a public health nuisance across the state, which allows municipalities to take action to mitigate the moth’s presence.

A number of Maine cities and towns have programs to identify moth infestations, and help local residents cope with the effects that the moths have.

📍 Where browntail moths are spreading in Maine

Browntail moth spread in Maine

How to curb browntail moth’s presence

Other resources