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Browntail Moth

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"The browntail moth is an invasive species found only on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod.” (Maine.gov)

Oh, Maine gardeners, how did we get so lucky? The word is that the little insects, harmful to the forest and to the gardener, will be moving, en mase, up the coast line.  If you have ever had poison ivy, contact with the fuzzy hairs of the brown tail moth are similar. The caterpillars are active from April to late June. The toxicity lasts as the “hair” moves through the air. Check out this brochure for information on how to protect yourself and your garden from infestation.

The following information is from the Kennebec Pharmacy Website.  The Rockport Garden Club has no affiliation with the Kennebec Pharmacy, the website editor just appreciates the wealth of information available and has many times, needed the advice offered.  

High risk activities to avoid:
  • Yard work, including cutting the grass, blowing leaves, weed-whacking, and raking

  • Hanging out on your deck or picnicking on the grass

  • Opening the windows in your house or car to enjoy the fresh air on a dry, windy day

  • Sitting near or working around trees and shrubs

  • Air-drying your laundry outside

  • Touching one of those furry little browntail moth caterpillars – yikes!

Browntail Moth Rash occurs after coming into contact with the poisonous hairs shed by browntail moth caterpillars. These microscopic hairs can become airborne, especially during dry, windy weather conditions, and are found everywhere in browntail-infested areas including trees, lawns, gardens, decks, and picnic tables.

The most active season for browntail moth caterpillars is from May through July, but because the hairs can remain toxic for up to three years, it’s possible for a rash to develop at other times throughout the year.

What are the symptoms of browntail moth rash?

The symptoms of browntail moth rash are similar to poison ivy. Sufferers experience an outbreak of red bumps on the affected area which causes great discomfort and a fiery itch that doesn’t seem to stop. These symptoms usually develop at the time of exposure or several hours after and can last for hours or even weeks. In more serious cases, individuals can experience respiratory issues such as trouble breathing as a result of inhaling the poisonous hairs.

Most individuals affected will notice signs of the rash soon after an outdoor activity where they have been exposed to trees or shrubs that are home to the pests or from wearing clothing that has been exposed to the tiny airborne hairs.

People will often ask if browntail moth rash is contagious. You can’t “catch” the rash like a cold virus – there must be contact with the barb-like, toxic hairs of the caterpillar for the rash to develop.

That’s why it’s important to follow these steps immediately after exposure to browntail moth caterpillars:

Example of Browntail Moth Rash on the shoulder of a person.

  • Wash the exposed clothing by itself in hot water with the recommended amount of laundry detergent.

  • Dry clothing in the dryer.

  • Scrub exposed skin with a brush or rough cloth while taking a cool, 10-15 minute shower.

Now it’s time to consider ways to relieve the itch that’s bound to keep you up all night in a state of discomfort.

What can you do to relieve browntail moth itch?

Don’t Panic. While there is nothing that will make the rash go away, there are a few different options for treatment that are focused on relieving symptoms.

For some, over-the-counter (OTC) lotions and oral antihistamines may do the trick while others prefer the direct approach of getting a prescription – the fastest, most effective way to relieve the symptoms.

OTC Medications commonly used to temporarily relieve itching:

  • Calamine lotion

  • Benadryl spray

  • Hydrocortisone cream

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