Times Record interviews Mech about browntail moth caterpillar

The Times Record interviewed Angela Mech, assistant professor of forest entomology at the University of Maine, about the concentration and dangers of the browntail moth caterpillar in the state. The dark brown caterpillars can be identified by their white stripes and red and orange dots. According to the article, they have toxic hairs that, when shed and released into the air, can cause breathing problems when inhaled and a skin reaction like poison ivy. All counties in southern, Down East and south-central Maine have some exposure risk. Mech said there is evidence that cool, wet spring seasons promote the growth of a fungus that attacks the caterpillar and can cause localized population crashes. “The mortality of a large number of caterpillars means a reduction in the number of toxic hairs in that area compared to areas that still have actively feeding caterpillars,” she said, “wet weather may help to minimize contact with the toxic hairs by reducing the chance that they become airborne.” Mech said the number of overwintering webs can be a good indicator for determining how problematic the caterpillar will be in a given area.