Mainers have been waiting a long time to begin their yard work around the house, most will grab a rake and begin to scratch at the ground, cleaning up leaves and other debris that Old Man Winter has left behind. But what else is lurking in there?

Coming across a deer tick while we're raking and digging underneath those bushes is usually top of mind, because of course no one wants to come down with Lyme disease. But one thing you may not have thought of is that Browntail moth caterpillars are beginning to emerge from their webs located up in the trees, and the furry little things are covered with hair that can cause skin irritation and breathing problems.

Yes, while the Browntail moth caterpillar makes it's way down from the trees and to wherever it is that a Browntail enjoys being, it's tiny hairs are becoming airborne, landing on things like trees, leaves, sheds, hanging laundry and picnic tables   Then you come along, with your rake, lawnmower and broom, stirring things up even further.  Suddenly, those tiny hairs are everywhere, on your clothing and in your nostrils.

And as we found out the hard way in my family a couple years back, kids tend to be really fascinated by these fuzzy little suckers. To be fair, they look cuddly. At least that's what my son said when he brought one in to show his sister, much to my shock and dismay. Less than an hour later we were at Walk-In-Care with two kids covered in red splotchy rashes. They also had trouble some trouble breathing, which a couple of years ago, in a pre-Covid 19 time, was a little alarming, but not as scary as it would be today! We ended up getting a special prescription spray that did help with the rash, but it took a while for it to stop itching and go away, and the breathing issues to subside.

Browntail moth caterpillar hair can cause minor to severe breathing problems and could also make one develop a rash that looks like poison ivy, that could last anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the individual.

With everything else to be worried about these days, you probably don't want to add anything related to respiratory issues to that list. "Is it Covid or is it a Caterpillar" is not the fun new game of the season, but an actual question you might end up asking yourself, if you're not alert when you go outside. So be vigilant!

The Maine CDC tells us that these caterpillar hairs will be floating around until sometime in July, and that you'll find them in all counties in southern, mid-coast, downeast, and south-central Maine.  Check out this year's Maine Browntail Moth Exposure Risk Map.

Just like protecting yourself from ticks, wear clothing that covers yourself and reduces exposure and avoid infested areas, or work outside on a wet day while the hair is stationary.  Dry your laundry inside so the hair does not become embedded, and shower and wash your clothing when you're done for the day.

More information on this is available HERE.

And did we mention that there are two more very furry and cute caterpillars here in Maine that cause extreme irritation as well?  Yes, both the American Dagger and Hickory Tussock may be lurking in your backyard, so keep an eye out for them too.

All in all, sounds like more good reasons to pay someone else to do the yard work.

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