SCORES & OUTDOORS: Follow the 4 Rs to knock out browntail moth

Webs can look like fist-sized clumps of leaves tied together tightly with silk or like single leaves hanging onto twigs.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

With spring and summer several months away, now is not too early to be thinking about the browntail moth caterpillar.

Following a severe outbreak in 2021 (a summer in which I had six battles with the rash they are famous for delivering), I saw only one caterpillar all of 2022. That doesn’t mean we are scott free.

I will pass on to you a news release from the Maine Department of Agriculture and Conservation and Forestry, and the Maine Forest Service, on the four Rs to knock out the caterpillar.

Browntail Moth Awareness Month is right around the corner in Maine! February is when our community is encouraged to take advantage of the dormant season of the insect and join together to “KNOCK OUT” Browntail Moth (BTM).

Winter is the best time to clip and destroy BTM winter webs within reach or hire licensed arborists or pesticide applicators to reduce out-of-reach populations. BTM populations in Maine have been in an outbreak phase since 2015, and the pest cannot be eradicated. While long-lasting tree defoliation and branch dieback are major concerns, BTM’s microscopic, toxic hairs can cause trouble breathing and skin irritation similar to poison ivy from a few hours up to several weeks.

Follow the four Rs to reduce BTM populations on your property and protect your family and your community.

Recognize browntail moth.

Learn how to recognize if the trees where you live, work, and play have BTM. Their winter webs can look like single leaves hanging onto twigs or fist-sized clumps of leaves tied together tightly with silk. Winter webs are easiest to locate on sunny days, where the silk in the webs makes them “shine” in the sun. Knowing where the nests are in your yard or town can help inform your management decisions. Learn more by participating in the BTM Awareness Month events included below.

Remove BTM

With permission, remove webs with hand snips or an extendable pole pruner in areas within reach of the ground and away from hazards such as powerlines. Protect your eyes and skin from hairs that might be present from past caterpillar activity. After removal, destroy webs:

Burn them safely and legally or soak them in soapy water for several days, then dispose of the webs in the trash.

Recruit BTM

Winter is a great time to identify webs that may be too difficult to remove on your own. Recruit professional help to treat webs out of reach or near hazards on the property you own or manage. Licensed Professional Arborists can remove BTM webs in larger trees and shrubs in the winter. In trees where the caterpillars’ hairs cause a nuisance and where it is not practical to remove the webs, Licensed Pesticide Applicators may be able to use insecticides during the growing season to manage BTM.

Reach Out BTM

If you find BTM in your neighborhood, reach out and let your neighbors and town officials know. The more neighbors, businesses, and others that get together to respond to the problem, the better the results.

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) Forest Health and Monitoring Division coordinates within state government, local communities, and directly with citizens to respond to this issue. Comprehensive BTM information and tools compiled by MFS, Board of Pesticides Control, Maine Center for Disease Control, the University of Maine and other partners, including research, infestation tracking, FAQs, and educational resources for communities, municipalities, businesses, and healthcare providers, are available on the Maine Forest Service website.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL teams to never appear in a Super Bowl.

Answer can be found here.


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