UMaine’s Pilot Study on the Browntail Moth Could Be A Game Changer
As a homeowner in the Bangor area, I have found it frustrating this spring to not only deal with the itch of the Browntail Moth caterpillar but trying to rack my brain on how to fix this problem on my own.
In the midst of this springtime, realizing why my rash had developed after taking steroids and slathering myself with calamine lotion for weeks to endure and get over my rash, I had a mission to scour the web about how to rid my property of the Browntail Moth caterpillar. The results were disappointing.
The bigger problem that we all have to face is that we can't resolve the issue on just one property. No matter what you do to treat your property, it takes the efforts of the community to decline the population of these pests. As a property owner, some resolution involves costly treatment to the trees on my property which must be completed at a particularly small window of time in the spring. I could also climb my 100-foot tall trees, or pay someone to, clip the nests off of the top of my giant elms. But, what we all have to face is that your whole neighborhood or part of town has to be treated, too, in order to see get some resolution.
So, what could I do as a singular property owner to bring about a solution to the Browntail Moth problem? Through my frustration and research, I found how I could be part of the solution. SCIENCE!
A little history on the Browntail Moth Caterpillar here in Maine
The fact is these caterpillars are rampant on the mid-coast and have been there for a hundred years. Every 15-30 years or so there can be a population boom, which is what the Midcoast has seen before. But, what makes things different this time around is that the Midcoast population has increased to numbers never seen before and they are spreading inland. Bangor is quickly becoming a new hotspot for these pests.
Finding solutions to a growing problem
The caterpillar has toxic hairs that cause serious rash and even upper respiratory issues in humans. Additionally, infestations of the caterpillar and moth cause the destruction of trees. These were my problems. Through my research of how to deal with my new problem, I found out that the University of Maine Orono was starting a pilot study about the Browntail Moth to find ways to safely and efficiently decline the population of the Browntail. I contacted Angela Mech, Assistant Professor of Forest Entomology at the University of Maine who got my property signed up to be a part of the pilot study.
University of Maine pilot study on the Browntail Moth Caterpillar
Speaking with Angela and graduate student, Sadia Crosby, understand the issues that property owners in Maine face dealing with the Browntail Moth Caterpillar and are researching ways that could help communities deal with the infestation problems on the Midcoast and now in other areas in the state, including the Bangor and Augusta areas. The pilot study is a step towards figuring out how to decreasing the population to make life a little more comfortable in the parts of the state that are having real problems with this insect.
Details of the Browntail Moth Caterpillar pilot study happening now
The pilot study includes a little more than a dozen locations where traps are being placed, including my property here in the Bangor area. The science of the study is inspired by a close relative of the Browntail Moth, the Gypsy Moth, another destructive species that has actually spurred State's of Emergencies in places across the United States. What was found effective in decreasing the Gypsy Moth's population was using synthetic pheromones to confuse the Gypsy Moths and disturb their mating habits.
With this research and usage already showing success, the researchers at UMO are applying this science to the Browntail Moth here in the State of Maine. The pilot study includes testing two purities of the female pheromone to see if one will be better at attracting the male moths to the traps - the purer the compound needs to be, the more time-consuming and expensive it can be to make. Additionally, two kinds of traps are being tested, again to figure out which one will be the best at determining an estimate of the moth populations.
Into August, the traps will be checked weekly to see what is accumulated in the traps and keeping data on what is most effective. I, as a homeowner, just allow permission for the traps to be placed and the researchers to stop by and collect their data. The one thing I need to do is shut my outside lights off at night to avoid distracting the moths from the specially placed traps. I get to see the results in action and also play a part in resolving our communities' threats from the Browntail Moth.
Future research on Browntail Moths and hope for Maine
This research happening now is the first step to a bigger study planned for next year where 60 traps will be placed across the state to gain more monitoring data followed by testing the efficacy of using the pheromone to disrupt browntail moth mating. If this research shows promise, this could lead to mass applications of a synthetic pheromone across huge swaths of land. This means no dangerous chemicals around wildlife and humans, we could treat large areas at a time AND we could reduce the troubles that the Browntail Moth is doing to our people and our environment.
Take a look at some photos of what the pilot study looks like.