Outbreak of Poisonous Browntail Moth Caterpillars Plagues Maine

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While elements of the nation take care of swarms of cicadas this summer time, Maine is fighting an infestation of an invasive species of caterpillar with toxic hairs that may trigger folks to develop painful rashes and even respiration issues.

The caterpillars, often known as browntail moths, are about 1.5 inches lengthy and have white dashes down their sides and two pink dots on their backs.

Browntail moths are commonest alongside Maine’s coast and on Cape Cod, however they’ve been noticed this year in all of Maine’s 16 counties, stated Jim Britt, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

“People are finding them everyplace: on the ground, on the picnic table, on the electrical box, on the corner — you name it,” Mr. Britt stated. “They are heavily present. Folks will see them all over.”

“We are in the midst of an outbreak,” he stated.

The caterpillars have tiny toxic hairs that may stay poisonous for so long as three years, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services warned.

After folks are available contact with the caterpillar’s hairs, they’ll develop a pink and bumpy rash similar to a reaction to poison ivy that may linger for a couple of hours to a number of weeks, the division stated. If the hairs are inhaled, some folks can develop respiration points.

Other folks, like Mr. Britt who stated he lately got here throughout the caterpillars in a park, develop no signs.

“They were everywhere, and I had absolutely no reaction to them,” he stated.

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

In Waterville, Maine, a metropolis about 20 miles north of Augusta, the caterpillar infestation has gotten so out of management that the mayor referred to as an emergency meeting of the City Council to declare a public health emergency and order insecticide.

“After a pandemic year, while we are finally able to start getting out and socializing, this is the last thing we want to be dealing with,” the mayor, Jay Coelho, stated on the meeting, including that he had obtained a number of emails from Waterville residents with photos of painful rashes.

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

Browntail moths will not be new to Maine, which has had them for a century. The caterpillars initially got here from Massachusetts, however ended up in Maine “because they’re expert hitchhikers,” Mr. Britt stated.

While it’s unclear what precisely brought about this latest infestation, Mr. Britt stated dry circumstances are “absolutely ideal” for browntail moths to broaden their attain.

During the Waterville emergency meeting, a City Council member, Thomas Klepach, expressed concern that local weather change may worsen infestations in years to come back.

“It is wise for the city to get the outbreak under control as much as we can now,” Mr. Klepach stated, “and to recognize that this may be on ongoing problem.”

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services recommends showering and altering garments after being in areas with browntail moths, carrying a masks and goggles when doing out of doors actions, resembling raking leaves, and doing yardwork on moist days.

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