The Risks of Browntail Moth Hairs

photo of older browntail moth caterpillar
Browntail moth caterpillar (older)
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When scrolling through your feed or turning on the news, there’s a good chance you’ve seen warnings about the alarming number of ticks this season. Now, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine are reminding the public that’s not all you should be mindful of.

Browntail moth caterpillars may seem harmless at first glance, but their tiny hairs can actually cause a skin reaction like poison ivy and may cause trouble breathing if inhaled. These caterpillars are now emerging from their winter webs in trees across all Maine counties.

As you head outside for work or play, remember that you may come in contact with these toxic hairs– especially between April and July when larger caterpillars are active. Browntail moth caterpillars are dark brown with white stripes along the sides and two red-orange dots on the back.

Tips to Protect Yourself

  • Avoid places infested by caterpillars.
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in infested areas.
  • Dry laundry inside to avoid hairs embedding into clothing.
  • When performing activities outdoors that may stir up caterpillar hairs:
    • Aim for damp days or spray vegetation down with a hose. The moisture helps keep the hairs from becoming airborne while working.
    • Cover face with respirator and goggles.
    • Tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles.

For most, the rash lasts from a few hours up to several days. There is no specific treatment; treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and eliminating ongoing exposure.

For more information:

SOURCE: Maine Department of Health and Human Services