The Browntail Moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) was accidentally brought to Massachusetts from its native Europe in 1897, and soon after spread to the rest of New England and also moved into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The caterpillars have a huge host range of plants that they feed upon. However, they especially love oak, apple, crabapple, pear, birch and cherry trees. In addition to other hardwoods, they’ll also devour rose bushes that they encounter in the landscape after being dislodged from their primary host trees due to wind or other disturbances.
A major problem with this insect stems from the fact that throughout much of its life cycle (and especially in the caterpillar stage), it is armed with defensive, barbed hairs which break off and–for many people exposed to them—cause skin rashes, headaches, and sometimes breathing difficulties.
The moths are attracted to light, fly at night, and are active in July and August. They have a wingspread of about 1.5 inches (36-42 mm). The wings and midsection are solid white on both the male and the female. The abdomen has brown on it, and the brown coloration extends along most of the upper surface of the abdomen in the male [male example], whereas in the female, the top (upper/dorsal surface) of the abdomen is white, but the tuft of brown hairs at the very end is considerably thicker/wider compared to the male [female example]. Fortunately, the hairs on the adult moths are not toxic so those hairs do not cause a skin rash.
- Browntail Moth – Information and Updates (Maine Forest Service) (includes a video on removing browntail caterpillar nests)
- Recent News (May 12, 2022): Mech interviewed by BDN about impending browntail moth season
- Browntail Moth 2021 Winter Web Moth Survey (pdf) (Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Maine Forest Service
Forest Health & Monitoring) Maine Forest Service Map of Exposure Risk (Year 2020) (pdf)
- February is an ideal time to remove their nests — See also: Using Aerial Drones in an Innovative Way to Remove Browntail Moth Nests (YouTube video) — This technology is now being used by at least one arborist in Maine: Mann’s Lumber & Tree (Litchfield, Maine) | List of Licensed Arborists Willing to Prune Browntail Moth Nests (pdf)
- UMaine research connects rising temperatures with browntail moth resurgence (Feb. 17th, 2022)