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Brown-tail Moth caterpillars in the New Forest - May 2019

More sightings than usual of Brown-tail Moth caterpillars have been reported in the New Forest so far this year (May 2019). Contact with these caterpillars should be avoided as it can cause skin and eye irritation and breathing difficulties, particularly in children and in those with existing conditions such as asthma.

What do they look like?

The caterpillars are 7-38mm long, dark brown in colour with a distinctive white line down each side. They have spiked and barbed hairs which can penetrate skin if touched, and which the caterpillar can eject if disturbed, causing them to become airborne. Brown-tail moth caterpillar

When and where are they found?

The caterpillars become active in the spring. During March, they can be found in their winter tents in hedges and bushes (particularly hawthorn and blackberry). By April the caterpillars have begun to emerge from their tents and start to feed on the foliage around them. During May they gradually move away from the tents and become solitary. After spinning a cocoon, the adult moths emerge in July and August, ready to mate. Females lay eggs near the tip of shrub branches. They then spin a tent at the end of the shoots ready for winter.

Advice

You should avoid handling or brushing past Brown-tail Moth caterpillars as they are likely to cause irritating skin rashes similar to a severe nettle rash.  Normally this will result in a few hours of localised discomfort.

In addition, because the caterpillars' hairs can become airborne, some people may experience symptoms affecting their eyes and breathing, similar to hay fever. The hairs may also worsen symptoms of asthma for some sufferers.

Washing any irritated skin with water and applying calamine lotion on the skin may ease itching. If serious breathing difficulties occur, seek medical advice.Brown-tail moth caterpillars and tent

Does the Council do anything to remove or reduce the caterpillars?

If the caterpillars are on land we own, for example along some coastal paths, we may treat at various times of the year to help reduce risk to the public. If the land is privately owned, removal is the responsibility of the landowner.

The Brown-tail Moth caterpillar is not a recognised public health pest therefore the council and most other Local Authorities do not provide a removal service.

What should I do if I have an infestation?

Information on how infestations may be treated is available online, for example from the Royal Horticultural Society https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=896.

Most pest control contractors can clear the caterpillars.

Updated: 15 May 2019
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