Have you seen fat, fuzzy white moths around your lights over the past three weeks? If so they may be Browntail Moths (they have brown bodies). The Maine Forest Service, Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation, would like your help in tracking the moth flight. Please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mebrowntail to fill out a survey on where and how many moths you saw.
The caterpillar stage of this insect feeds on the foliage of many hardwood trees and shrubs in May and June. They particularly like oak and apple trees. Caterpillar feeding causes reduction of growth and occasional mortality of valued trees and shrubs.
While feeding damage may cause some concern, the primary human impact from the browntail moth is the result of contact with poisonous hairs found on the caterpillars. Contact of these hairs with human skin causes a rash similar to poison ivy that can be severe on some individuals. People can also experience respiratory distress from inhaling the microscopic hairs that blow around in the air.
Over the past three decades the browntail has been a problem along the midcoast and islands of Maine. The population is now spreading further inland and Downeast to communities such as Poland, Belgrade, Burnham, Eddington, and Deer Isle. Many people in these recently colonized areas are unaware of the impact browntail can have on them or their trees. Knowing where moths have been seen in large numbers can help us give people a heads-up as to what they may have to deal with next spring.
Controlling the moths is not practical. If you are seeing large numbers of white moths learn about what you can do if the caterpillars end up in your yard.