PEI

Islanders asked to keep an eye out for invasive species of moth

Officials with P.E.I.'s Department of Communities land and Environment are raising awareness about the browntail moth, an invasive species that can also be dangerous for humans.

Browntail moth caterpillar hairs can be harmful to humans

Officials on P.E.I. are raising awareness about the browntail moth. A browntail moth caterpillar, pictured here, feeds on oak trees and plants in the rose family, and can be harmful to humans. (Shutterstock / Milica011)

Officials with P.E.I.'s Department of Communities, Land and Environment are raising awareness about the browntail moth, an invasive species of insect.

David Carmichael, horticultural technician with the department, says the insects feed on species of oak trees and plants in the rose family. 

He said the insects have become an issue in the state of Maine, especially in coastal areas, though they have also started moving inland, and there is concern they could make their way to P.E.I.

Danger to humans

As well as causing damage to plants, he said, the insects can also be harmful to humans.

"The hairs kind of give off a bit of a toxin that might … give folks a reaction much like they would see with a poison ivy or things like that," Carmichael said. 

"Plus the hairs kind of have like little barbs that can kind of be impactful and kind of irritate the skin."

It may just be a matter of time before a lot of invasives start showing up here.— David Carmichael, horticultural technician

According to the Maine Forest Service, the hairs can be found on trees, lawns, gardens, decks, picnic table or in the air and remain harmful for up to three years.

What do they look like?

Carmichael said the browntail moth caterpillars are dark and furry, have a bit of white spotting down both sides the length of the body and some orange coloured spots as well.

Both female and male moths are white in colour and tend to have a brownish tuft of hair at their posterior end, hence their name.

A browntail moth caterpillar on a leaf. The Maine Division of Disease Surveillance posted this photo in an effort to raise awareness about the invasive pest. (Maine Division of Disease Surveillance)

The moths originated in Europe and parts of Asia and northern Africa, Carmichael said. 

They've been in the region for more than a century according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and were first spotted in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the early 20th century.

Their population in Maine crashed in the mid-2000s, but then increased dramatically between 2015 and 2017. 

Carmichael said there was a possible sighting of a browntail moth in New Brunswick in the past year, though he said that finding was based on an image because the moth in question wasn't captured.

They may be hitchhikers on vehicles or things like that.— David Carmichael, horticultural technician

What can be done?

Carmichael said it is important that people try to slow the spread of the invasive insects though he also believes it is likely they will find their way to the Island.

"Unfortunately with a lot of invasive pests and with the mobility of humans and our products it may just be a matter of time before a lot of invasives start showing up here," he said.

Browntail moth caterpillars on a tree. This photo is another released by the Maine Division of Disease Surveillance in an effort to raise awareness of the pest. (Maine Division of Disease Surveillance)

Carmichael said people should check their cars and themselves if they've been outside the province in an area where any invasive species reside.

"A lot of invasive pests like other invasives that are in the region, may move from one place to another through assistance, you know. They may be hitchhikers on vehicles or things like that," he said.

Report sightings

He said if people spot the insects and report their sightings, the hope is that the browntail moth can be contained.

Carmichael said to contact forestry officials if the insects are spotted. He also suggested posting pictures to the Tree Insects and Disease: Prince Edward Island Facebook page so technicians might be able to confirm if the moths are on the Island.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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