Outbreak of Toxic Browntail Moth Caterpillars Plagues Maine

Whereas elements of the nation cope with swarms of cicadas this summer time, Maine is battling an infestation of an invasive species of caterpillar with toxic hairs that may trigger individuals to develop painful rashes and even respiratory issues.

The caterpillars, referred to as browntail moths, are about 1.5 inches lengthy and have white dashes down their sides and two purple dots on their backs.

Browntail moths are most typical alongside Maine’s coast and on Cape Cod, however they’ve been noticed this 12 months in all of Maine’s 16 counties, mentioned Jim Britt, a spokesman for the Maine Division of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

“Persons are discovering them everyplace: on the bottom, on the picnic desk, on {the electrical} field, on the nook — you identify it,” Mr. Britt mentioned. “They’re closely current. People will see them throughout.”

“We’re within the midst of an outbreak,” he mentioned.

The caterpillars have tiny toxic hairs that may stay poisonous for so long as three years, the Maine Division of Well being and Human Companies warned.

After individuals are available contact with the caterpillar’s hairs, they will develop a purple and bumpy rash much like a response to poison ivy that may linger for just a few hours to a number of weeks, the division mentioned. If the hairs are inhaled, some individuals can develop respiratory points.

Different individuals, like Mr. Britt who mentioned he not too long ago got here throughout the caterpillars in a park, develop no signs.

“They had been in all places, and I had completely no response to them,” he mentioned.

There’s no particular therapy for the rash, apart from treatments like calamine lotion, the division mentioned.

In Waterville, Maine, a metropolis about 20 miles north of Augusta, the caterpillar infestation has gotten so uncontrolled that the mayor known as an emergency assembly of the Metropolis Council to declare a public well being emergency and order insecticide.

“After a pandemic 12 months, whereas we’re lastly capable of begin getting out and socializing, that is the very last thing we need to be coping with,” the mayor, Jay Coelho, mentioned on the assembly, including that he had acquired a number of emails from Waterville residents with footage of painful rashes.

The caterpillars spend the winter in oak bushes and different hardwood bushes, and emerge within the spring, Mr. Britt mentioned.

Browntail moths aren’t new to Maine, which has had them for a century. The caterpillars initially got here from Massachusetts, however ended up in Maine “as a result of they’re skilled hitchhikers,” Mr. Britt mentioned.

Whereas it’s unclear what precisely precipitated this latest infestation, Mr. Britt mentioned dry circumstances are “completely superb” for browntail moths to increase their attain.

Through the Waterville emergency assembly, a Metropolis Council member, Thomas Klepach, expressed concern that local weather change might worsen infestations in years to come back.

“It’s clever for town to get the outbreak below management as a lot as we will now,” Mr. Klepach mentioned, “and to acknowledge that this can be on ongoing drawback.”

Maine’s Division of Well being and Human Companies recommends showering and altering garments after being in areas with browntail moths, sporting a masks and goggles when doing out of doors actions, equivalent to raking leaves, and doing yardwork on moist days.

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