Follow the Four Rs to Knockout Browntail In Our Communities and Reduce the Itch!

Encounters with hairs from browntail moth caterpillars can cause mild to severe rashes and respiratory issues. Browntail moth caterpillars overwinter in webs that may have from a couple dozen to several hundred caterpillars each. Some people say they experience itching with fewer than 10 webs per tree or shrub; others say they have no symptoms from heavier infestations around their yards. 

Winter is the best time to spot an infestation and take steps towards controlling the caterpillars and reducing the itch.

Use these Four R’s to get you started: 

1. Recognize: Learn how to tell if the trees where you live, work and play have browntail moth. Their winter webs can look like single leaves hanging onto twigs, or fist-sized clumps of leaves tied together tightly with silk. Knowing where the webs are in your yard or town can help inform your management decisions.

Two photos showing winter webs
Webs can look like fist-sized clumps of leaves tied together tightly with silk, or like single leaves hanging onto twigs.

2. Remove: With permission, use hand snips or extendable pole pruners to remove webs within reach from the ground and away from hazards such as powerlines. Protect your eyes and skin from hairs that might be present from past caterpillar activity. After removal, destroy webs by soaking or burning. 

Man using pruners on tree
Use hand snips or extendable pole pruners to remove webs within reach from the ground and away from hazards such as powerlines.

3. Recruit: Hire professional help for treatment of webs out of reach or near hazards on property you own or manage. Line up help during winter. Licensed Professional Arborists can remove a limited number of webs in larger trees and shrubs in the winter. In trees where the caterpillars’ hairs cause a nuisance and where it is not practical to remove webs, Licensed Pesticide Applicators may be able to use insecticides during the growing season to manage browntail moth.

Winter tree with browntail moth webs in branches
In large, heavily infested trees like this oak it is not feasible to remove webs. In trees like this that are a concern from the standpoint of human health or nuisance, licensed pesticide applicators may be able to use insecticides to manage browntail moth.

4. Reach Out: If you find browntail moth in your neighborhood, let your neighbors and town officials know. The more that neighbors, businesses and others get together to respond to the problem, the better the results.  

Hand holding a winter web, a line of cars in the background
Vehicles line the road at a community web-clipping event in Deer Isle. Foreground, browntail web in serviceberry. The more that neighbors, businesses and others get together to respond to the problem, the better the results.

We invite you to join us in scheduling awareness-raising events and promoting management of browntail moth this winter, with a focus in February. Use #KnockoutBrowntail on social media. Efforts could include organizing groups to map infestations on town and school properties, hosting public service web-clipping events, hosting contests for the most webs clipped or other community and knowledge building activities.

For more information:

Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths:

  • Call 211 or 1-877-463-6207
  • Text your ZIP code to 898-211

Or visit https://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/invasive_threats/browntail_moth_info.htm

Join us for our Annual Gathering! Raffle prizes and more…

Join Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District for our annual gathering on December 15th at 3pm. The event will be a chance to meet some new faces in conservation for Midcoast Maine, including Allyssa Gregory of the Maine Forest Service, Joe Roy of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and our new District staff member Medea Steinman. We will also present an award for Conservationist of the Year and share a bit about 2021. All attendees will be entered in a raffle for several prizes.

Our new Administrative Director Medea Steinman

Joseph Roy is the new Private Lands Biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He was born and raised in Jay, Maine, and attended the University of Maine in Orono where he studied Wildlife Ecology. Upon graduation he traveled the country working with a variety of flora and fauna, including deer, bear, elk, eagles, and loons. After working in environmental consulting for a few years he found himself back at MDIFW in his current role, where he helps individual landowners manage their property to support wildlife. Allyssa Gregory has recently moved to Maine after working in forestry in South Dakota. Allyssa Gregory is the Maine Forest Service’s District Forester for the Midcoast. She has most recently worked with the State of South Dakota as a Rural Forester. Allyssa offers landowner assistance, educational programming, and resources for woodland owners in parts of Waldo, Kennebec, Knox, and Lincoln.  Allyssa and Joe will be collaborating with the Soil and Water Conservation District to offer some new workshops in 2022. Medea Steinman recently joined Waldo SWCD as Administrative Director. Prior to coming to the District, Medea worked in science education and education research for about 17 years—with K-12 schools, the University of Maine System, and with nonprofits. Before that she worked professionally in land conservation and environmental consulting. Please contact us at msteinman@maineconservationdistricts.com to request a Zoom link to our virtual event.

Thoughts on Fall Cleanup

In late October and early November, we are all thinking about cleaning up the leaves in our yards, and many of us are also working on having yards that are healthy for all types of wildlife, insects and birds. Many of us also want our yard to have a neat appearance. I have a city yard, so this is certainly true for me. I thought I’d share a post I wrote on fall cleanup that shares some thoughts on being a bit messy for the benefit of nature, while also being neat.

Pollinator Gardening: In Praise of Summersweet (Sweet Pepperbush)

I spent sometime this morning enjoying the sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) in my yard, taking in its heavenly scent and watching the many bumblebees visiting the plant. I have to say that it is one of my favorite shrubs for pollinators. It is one of our few native shrubs that blooms in late summer, with prolific spikes of showy white flowers in early August and a scent strong enough to carry on the breeze. It’s a great plant for eco landscaping, with a neat, showy appearance even when not in flower and with winter interest as well. Sweet-pepperbush can grow in sun and shade, and likes some soil moisture. There are thus lots of cultivars of this plant to choose from, but I find the straight native version to be just as beautiful. Sweet-pepperbush is native to Coastal Maine, although it is not found in our part of the Midcoast area.

We chose this plant for our new demonstration shrub planting at the Wales Park pollinator garden, where you can see it in bloom right now, along with other attractive native shrubs including meadowsweet, common elderberry, sweetfern, spicebush and redosier dogwood. The garden is a great place to start learning about pollinator plants. We recently completed most of our plantings and have labeled all the plants. We have also made a map and key for the garden. A guided tour of our pollinator garden will be offered August 27th from 10am to 4pm by the Belfast Garden Club Open Gardens event; see their website for more information.

Wales Park Pollinator Garden Map and Key 2021 v 1