While dealing with some parts of the country flock of cicadas This summer, Maine is battling an infestation of an invasive species of caterpillar with venomous hairs, which can cause painful rashes and even breathing problems for people.
The caterpillars, known as browntail moths, are about 1.5 inches long and have white spots on their sides and two red dots on their backs.
Browntail moths are most common off the coast of Maine and on Cape Cod, but they have been seen in all 16 of Maine’s counties this year, said Jim Britt, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
“People are looking for them everywhere: on the ground, on picnic tables, on electrical boxes, on the corner – you name it,” said Mr. Britt. “They exist in huge quantities. People will see them everywhere.”
“We are in the middle of an outbreak,” he said.
The caterpillars have short poisonous hairs that can remain poisonous for up to three years. Maine Department of Health and Human Services warns.
After people come into contact with the caterpillar’s hair, they may develop a red bumpy rash similar to a reaction to poison ivy The department said it could last from a few hours to several weeks. If the hair is inhaled, some people may have trouble breathing.
Others, such as Mr Britt, who said he had recently come across a caterpillar in a park, had no symptoms.
“They were everywhere, and I had no reaction to them,” he said.
The department said there is no specific treatment for the rash, other than treatments such as calamine lotion.
In Waterville, Maine, a town about 20 miles north of Augusta, the caterpillar infestation has gotten so out of control that the mayor has called an emergency meeting of the city council. public health emergency And order insecticide.
“After a pandemic year, when we’re finally able to get out and start socializing, it’s the last thing we want to deal with,” Mayor Jay Coelho told the meeting. Waterville resident with pictures of painful rashes.
The caterpillars spend the winter in oak trees and other hardwood trees, and emerge in the spring, Mr Britt said.
Browntail moths are not new to Maine, having had them for a century. The caterpillars originally came from Massachusetts, but ended up in Maine “because they are expert hitchhikers,” Mr Britt said.
While it is not clear what exactly caused this recent infection, Mr Britt said dry conditions are “absolutely ideal” for increasing the reach of browntail moths.
During an emergency meeting in Waterville, a member of the city council, Thomas Klepch, expressed concern that climate change could worsen the transition in the coming years.
“It is wise for the city to get the outbreak under control as much as possible,” Mr Klepch said, “and to recognize that it may be at an ongoing problem.”
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services recommends that after living in brown moth areas, shower and change clothing while wearing a mask and goggles during outdoor activities such as raking leaves and doing yardwork on wet days. .