Despite the zombie fungus, browntail moth caterpillars are still around

This time last year, experts were saying that spring 2023 would be the worst season yet for the caterpillar everyone loves to hate: the Browntail Moth caterpillar (or BTMs).

But this year, experts say the crop of pesky critters could be in decline, thanks to a crazy fungus.

Read more: Maine Browntail caterpillars may lose some weight due to ‘Zombie’ fungus

While the numbers may not be as astronomical as last year, that doesn’t mean there won’t still be a need for people in Eastern Maine to stay on the lookout for these itch-causing insects.

Reports of caterpillar sightings are already coming in from across the city of Bangor. The last one I saw was in the Fairmount Park area.

City officials have even posted a handy map on the city’s website showing where people are seeing the bugs.

They even have a place on the website where you can report any Browntail Moth Caterpillars you come across.

2024 Browntail Moth Caterpillar sighting, City of Bangor

2024 Browntail Moth Caterpillar sighting, City of Bangor

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry says the biggest threat browntails can pose is harm to people in the area. According to…

“Although the browntail moth is a forest pest and can cause death of host trees, its greatest impacts are on human health and economics. Exposure to irritating hairs can cause a wide range of symptoms, from mild to very severe.”

Sarah Nickerson, Townsquare Media Bangor

Sarah Nickerson, Townsquare Media Bangor

Tyler McIntosh, a graduate of the University of Maine with a degree in forestry, and known locally as “The Tree Man,” says that while many communities, such as Bangor, have been actively working to eliminate as many browntail nests as possible, McIntosh says that removing removing them from trees has become something of an exercise in futility at this point.

“Some nests from the trees fall to the ground in the winter. So you can cut the ones in the trees, but the ones on the ground will also have some. And if you cut the nests from your trees, but your neighbor does it not, once the caterpillars emerge, once they start moving, they just migrate to your tree and nothing stops them.

McIntosh says a few tree service companies, like his, McIntosh Forestry Services, have started offering an injectable insecticide, which, when placed in the browntail moth’s host trees, will kill the pests for a season, but people have to take action in the spring to make the most of the coming months.

“So we can put injections into the tree. It will take a few days for it to start working. Any brown-tailed caterpillar that feeds on that tree will die and not be able to complete its life cycle in that tree.”

The City of Bangor has a list of people who are willing and licensed to do the applications McIntosh mentions.

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“The State of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry maintains on their website a list of licensed applicators willing to treat BTM, List of licensed pesticide applicators willing to treat Browntail Moth and/or Hemlock Woolly Adelgid: Browntail Moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) address: Forest Health and Monitoring: Bureau of Forestry: Maine DACF.”

The folks at the Bangor Parks and Rec Department have also identified some trees in area parks and playgrounds that will be treated with the injectable insecticides this year, including trees in Broadway Park, Coe Park, Davenport Park, Fairmount Park, Old Cemetery Park and Talbot Park.

“The goal is to create a safe, healthy environment in areas where people gather and recreate. Residents should look at this the same way. Collectively, we will never cut down enough nests or inject enough trees to eradicate BTM – no matter the time and effort, otherwise money will be thrown at the problem. Your goal should be to make efforts to improve your situation.”

Stay vigilant and do what you can to reduce BTMs in your area. Report it if you see them. If possible, remove the nests and dispose of them properly.

If you need more information or resources, contact the experts here.

Good luck over there!

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