Maine DHHS Press / News Release

May 29, 2019

211 Now Available for Browntail Moth Questions

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine announced today a new way for Mainers to get information about browntail moths. People with questions can now call 211 Maine to speak to a specialist regarding browntail moth biology, management, pesticide options, health concerns, reducing toxic hair exposure, and potential public policy and economic impacts.

This service is available by dialing 211 (or 1-866-811-5695), texting your zip code to 898-211, or emailing info@211maine.org . 211 Maine will serve as a hub for all State of Maine agencies involved in browntail moth issues.

The browntail moth is an invasive species that causes human health concerns and can also impact forests and ornamental trees. Maine and Massachusetts are the only states in the U.S. known to have this moth.

The tiny, microscopic hairs found on browntail moth caterpillars, shed skins, and cocoons can cause a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. Most individuals affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days. In more sensitive individuals, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Hairs shed by the caterpillar can become airborne and also cause trouble breathing. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by exposure to browntail moth hairs. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and eliminating ongoing exposure.

Caterpillars are active from April to late June/early July. Hairs blow around in the air, fall onto leaves and brush in the fall and spring, and can be stirred up during mowing, raking, sweeping, and other activities. Hairs can remain toxic for one to three years in the environment but lose their toxicity over time.

Browntail moth caterpillars are easy to identify. They are dark brown in color with white stripes along the sides and two red-orange dots on the back.

Steps Mainers can take to protect themselves from browntail moth hairs:

  • Avoid places heavily infested by caterpillars
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in heavily infested areas
  • Rake, mow, etc. when foliage is wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne
    • Cover face and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles when working outdoors
  • Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs embedding into clothing

For more information

Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths: