Brown Tail Moths Are No Joke

Euproctis_chrysorrhoea_noushka31_02The brown tail moth infestation is no joke. This year, Groom and I were negligent. We ignored the warnings, all the warnings. I even saw a couple of the gnarly little brown tail crawlers on our deck. And I did nothing. Now I pay.

I came home after a few days aboard the Stephen Taber, a schooner in the Maine Windjammer Fleet that I intend to write about soon, to find the inside door to our screen porch closed. Why, I mused, would we have our doors closed on a gorgeous, dry, breezy warm day? Why?

As I approached the door, I saw them. Everywhere. They were making their ways to their little nesting areas. Scores of creepy, disgusting fuzzy caterpillars. We were too late. They had taken over.

Did I at least heed the warnings about the noxious hairs getting into the air and causing personal damage in the form of rashes and respiratory distress? Did I make note that these hairs travel farther and thus are more dangerous on gorgeous, dry, breezy days?

No sir. I did not.

I mowed the lawn. I donned a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and I mowed the frigging lawn. Can you guess what I likely ground up in that mower?

Yup. All the bastards that had been making their way over to our porch got mowed down. I’ll admit I felt a small sense of victory but, oh, what wages we must pay in times of war. I was covered in those toxic hairs.

A brown tail moth rash feels like all the black flies and mosquitos got together and had a big orgy on your body. It’s itchy, made worse as one can imagine, by scratching. But here’s the part that’s truly fascinating. The rash grows with time. Like a single black fly bite, the itchiness of the rash can last a ridiculously long time. Unlike any other bites, however, from first notice to final insanity, the rash seems to grow. But it doesn’t actually grow, no no. It just gets worse. It turns into what I can only describe as a hive-like blemish that is distractingly, infuriatingly itchy.

Itchiness is among the worst sensations. I will take a sunburn, a twisted ankle, a banged knee over this. The only things I wouldn’t trade an itchy rash for are nausea and a broken heart, not necessarily in that order.

IMG_3527I am now obsessed with these invasive jerks. I discovered, like many of us who live here now, brown tail moths are not indigenous to the New England coast. Some yahoo brought them over from Europe in the late 1800s. Yeah. Thanks guy. What maddens me more is that they were likely brought over with a shipment of roses. And I love roses. You want to win me over? Send me a pile of yellow tea roses. Groom figured that out and planted a rose bush in his yard when he bought the house where we now live together. Brilliant move.

IMG_3525The larvae come out in the early spring and eat the baby leaves on the trees with no regard for beauty or the sanctity of life. They’re like the fisher cats of the plant and insect world.

Aside: Someone told me recently that fisher cats will stalk a rabbit back to its hole, eat its entire family, and then TAKE A NAP IN THE RABBIT WARREN while it digests its dinner. Fisher cats are dinks. And so are brown tail moths.

Of course, I feed on the tender new leaves of arugula in the spring so I’m no better. But, I’m human. We already know we’re the worst.

treeAnyway, what we’re seeing now in mid to late June are full grown-up larvae. They have destroyed one of our apple trees and they are setting up house on our screen porch as they enter the pupal stage. That’s when they spin themselves into those white webby piles of ugly at the ends of tree branches and, as luck would have it, in the corners of a recently built expensive screen porch.

porchThose webby cocoons are full of toxic hairs so you can’t touch them. You can’t even go near them. Those become moths in August and we start the cycle all over again. And, if you think I’m getting any closer to those caterpillars to get a better picture, you have lost the entire spirit of who I am. I may never go outside again.

The actual brown tail moth is all white and fuzzy and super cute. And that irritates me even more. I want them to be ugly and awful, but they just happen to have a really amazing defense mechanism and they’re kind of snuggly looking when they’re grown up. I almost have mixed emotions about annihilating them as they pupate.

Euproctis chrysorrhoea MHNT.CUT.2012.0.357 Claix (Isère) Female

No I don’t.

And “pupate” is an ugly word. I’m off to take another Silkwood shower right now.

To reiterate, we ignored the warning signs. Modern Pest, which we use for other infestations such as chipmunks and ants, does not handle a brown tail infestation in the home. We are looking into other options, because this is not something we can handle on our own. And, if we don’t take care of it, we have lost our porch to the forces of nature. A porch, I should add, I never felt I deserved anyway. It’s way too nice for someone like me. So, you know, more mixed emotions.

Please let me be a warning to you. I am covered head-to-toe in Calamine lotion like a 10-year-old who fell into a patch of poison ivy. I owe Groom my life for NOT taking video of me last night after I popped two Benadryl and tried to carry on a conversation like a cross between Nicky after a heroin fix and Sheila Albertson out for some Chinese.

Heed the advice of the professionals. In the winter and early spring, if you see notices about the likelihood of a brown tail moth infestation, take it to heart. I am frustrated. I am grumpy. I am about to have significantly less money. And I feel like an idiot.

A very, very itchy idiot.

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Sarah Devlin

About Sarah Devlin

Sarah Devlin has been writing about the recreational industry since the late ’90s but ironically can’t run, swim, or bike a mile.