Watch out for browntail moth caterpillars

Brown-tail moth caterpillar
Browntail moth caterpillar photo via the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Browntail moth caterpillars are a growing nuisance in parts of Maine, particularly along the coast, posing a problem from late May through late June.

These caterpillars have tiny poisonous hairs that can cause skin or lung irritation. You don’t have to touch the caterpillar to contact its hairs. They often get into the air when the caterpillar sheds.

Most people who develop symptoms get a small rash that lasts a few hours or days, but some people can have a severe rash that lasts for weeks. Breathing in the hairs can also cause severe lung irritation.

If you are having symptoms related to browntail moths, contact the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. We can determine whether you need see your doctor or pharmacist or visit the emergency department.

There are some steps you can take to prevent contact with poisonous caterpillar hairs if you have them in your yard:

  • Dry your laundry indoors, rather than out on a line, so hairs do not get in your clothes.
  • When doing outdoor activities that might stir up hairs, such as mowing, raking, and weed whacking:
    • Perform tasks on a damp day with little wind, or spray down grass or plants with a hose. This helps keep the hairs from getting up into the air.
    • Wear a respirator, goggles, and long sleeves and pants.
    • Take a cool shower immediately after working, and wash your work clothes.

Get more information about browntail moths from the Maine Forest Service.

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