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Invasive Brown-Tail Moth Causes Problems in Maine

Maine is coping with a severe invasive species problem.

Year by year, the brown-tail moth has spread extensively, disposing certain people to the itchy rash caused by their caterpillar hairs.

The problem is now so widespread that you can call 2-1-1 in Maine for help if you experience symptoms you think may have been caused by those hairs or if you need other information on the moths.

"The extent and intensity of it, it's really something we haven’t seen," said state entomologist Allison Kanoti, who works for the Maine Forest Service.

Kanoti says the moths, with their webby nets and leaf munching caterpillars have defoliated more than 125,000 acres of Maine trees by the end of last year.

"We see brown-tail moth from east of the Penobscot river, all the way to the New Hampshire border," she said.

The worst hit areas are Maine’s midcoast through popular destinations like Camden and pockets around the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Despite the worst brown-tail season any Maine scientist can remember, there is some improvement in one specific geographic area where the moths were prevalent in 2018.

Towns near Casco Bay, like Falmouth and Freeport, have seen a decline in population. Experts believe a cold, wet spring caused an increase in the population of a fungus that kills the caterpillars.

"I feel lucky we're in the region where we are seeing the population crash," said Andy Hutchinson, park manager at Wolfe's Neck State Park in Freeport.

Hutchinson said 2018 was one of the worst years for moths in the park.

Staff trying to mow the lawn have had to wear Tyvek suits to avoid the itchy caterpillar hairs and some have got the rash.

This year, after some professional spraying with a bacteria that kills the caterpillars organically, there are fewer defoliated trees.

But, for the moment, Wolfe's Neck is the exception.

Kanoti says visitors to Maine and Mainers should check their cars, so they don't transport caterpillars to new areas.

They can also turn off lights that attract the moths to homes at night and can call the Maine Forest Service if they see caterpillars in unusual areas where they haven't been reported before.

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