Brown Tail Moths: Removing the Infestation

IMG_3546As I mentioned in last week’s post, Brown Tail Moths Are No Joke. This month, our screen porch became infested with brown tail moth caterpillars entering their pupal state. All winter long, we saw warnings that this might be a bad year for these creepy crawlies with toxic hairs. All winter long, we read reports that they go after apple trees, the very same trees that surround our porch. All winter long, we heard the experts telling people to treat their trees and homes. All winter long, we ignored it.

IMG_3547The good news is that, according to a brown tail moth story on MPBN, the wet spring gave the caterpillars a nasty fungal infection so they went into their webs earlier and are supposedly dying off. This means we won’t see this level of infestation again next year. But, we’ll be taking precautions regardless.

If you do get the rash, contact Kennebec Pharmacy. I have heard from personal friends, readers of this blog, and within news reports on brown tail moth that pharmacist Patrice Carter’s tincture for the rash does the trick. According to the article I linked above, she was getting 40–50 calls a day. I was able to get by with the last bottle of Calamine at our local CVS combined with topical and oral Benadryl, all applied and taken liberally. I may or may not have supplemented this treatment with a cocktail or two. This is NOT RECOMMENDED. Trust me.

Many people do not react to the toxic hairs on brown tail moth caterpillars. Don’t test the theory, but there’s a chance this won’t be a problem for you. Me? Between ticks and brown tails, I’m avoiding all outdoor areas until first snowfall.

Here, I’d like to talk about the bright future ahead of us due to my own husband’s heroism and “we’ll just deal with it” attitude—a direct antithesis to my “oh my god we’re all going to die so we may as well just binge-watch Orange Is the New Black until the couch absorbs us” attitude.

Aside: Have you seen the new season of OITNB? I’m still recovering from it.

And we’re back. First, we looked into how to prevent this in the future. Brown tail moth caterpillars have a liking for apple and oak trees specifically, so if you have them on your property, keep an eye out.

Some communities, like the town of Cumberland, work together to prevent the brown tails with targeted pesticide sprays. You can also contact such local places as Lucas Tree (Portland), Hughes Arbor and Land Management (Freeport), and WellTree (Brunswick) to come and take care of your yard ahead of time. Or, you can just deal with it yourself, as Tom Estabrook from Estabrook’s in Yarmouth notes in this news report about some brown tail products you can use on your trees. If you have a tree that has been attacked, after you clip the harmed limbs, make sure you water and fertilize it to reduce some of the stress that poor tree is enduring. According to everything I’ve read, the trees do sometimes refoliate.

One of the readers of this blog recommended we bring the neighbors into this conversation so all trees in the area will be treated and we’re not passing the problem back and forth, which I found to be both very nice and very helpful.

But, nobody talks about what to do if brown tail moths get into your home.

My husband talked with Mike Hughes (“such a nice guy”) at Hughes Arbor and Land Management in Brunswick who said once brown tail moths go into their pupal stage, they’re not covered in hairs, but the hairs are in the ground so we need to remain vigilant. There is a systemic pesticide available that the tree takes up, but not typically applied this time of year. In other words, we are too late for any pesticides even if we wanted to use them.

I talked to Jeff Gillis, the owner at WellTree, who agreed with Mike Hughes about the relative harmlessness of the brown tails once they enter pupal state. He told me they’d be able to fit us in for a cleanup…in August. He then gave us some recommendations on how to remove the cocoons ourselves.

We seriously improvised on this, so I wouldn’t hold Mr. Hughes or Mr. Gillis responsible for any mistakes we may have made. In case you have an infestation yourself, here’s what we did, without pesticides or harmful toxins.

Equipment & Tools

  • Large trash bags
  • Tyvek suit
  • Head covering, like a balaclava or a spray sock
  • Dust mask with a particulate filter
  • Thin nitrile or latex gloves gloves as an underlayer
  • Heavy duty working gloves, like PVC fishing gloves
  • Eye protection, like ski goggles
  • Pretty blue scarf that did nothing but make me laugh
  • Power washer
  • ShopVac with HEPA filter and drywall bag
  • Tree limb clippers
  • Spouse standing by with emergency ham and cheese rollups and glasses of water



This is how I know my husband loves me. He took every precaution, as you can tell from the list above. He insisted I close all the windows and doors and I was not allowed to assist him in any way because I continue to break out in rashes. His main concern, like mine, is the respiratory distress many people suffer. Neither of us has encountered that, but he claims that I’m likely more susceptible because I’m already reacting—he’s a hypochondriac’s dream.

But, want to know what a truly nice guy he is? I handed him a kale smoothie just as he was about to embark on this adventure, he took a sip, and he said, “Yum.”


On to the actual project, a step-by-step guide from my perspective.

The Process for Removing Brown Tails from the Home

      1. First, I had to overcome the feeling that I was in a real-life version of The Crazies.IMG_3552
      2. Everything with fabric on our screen porch got tossed. We also had a small space heater out there. Gone.IMG_3565
      3. Groom lightly sprayed the exterior of the porch to get the nasty little hairs on these bastards all settled. Then, he sucked up everything on the exterior walls and floors.IMG_3560
      4. Slowly, he worked himself inside. Spray, suck. Spray, suck.IMG_3582IMG_3591
      5. Every single slat, every piece of furniture, every crevice vacuumed and power sprayed.IMG_3637
      6. Finally, he mowed the area around the porch and clipped all the limbs on the apple tree with nests. 

It’s a solid two-day project with multiple trips to the hardware store and a huge hit to the bank account. Last night, after he tossed all the clothes he’d been wearing and had taken his shower, Groom sat quietly for a moment before saying, “I wonder whether Servicemaster would have dealt with this for us.” He looked out the window, slightly shell-shocked. “They handle homicide scenes and corpses, don’t they?

I did not reach out to Servicemaster to find out. But, if you have an infestation yourself, it might be worth the call.

Now, if only we could figure out how to deal with all the pollen this year.


No more brown tails


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.