Browntail moth caterpillars, like those seen here, are coming from the trees and bringing with them health risks, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Forest Service

Bangor officials have developed a plan to stop the spread of browntail moth caterpillars after numerous residents developed rashes from the insects, Bangor Public Works Director Aaron Huotari said in a City Council workshop meeting on Monday.

The plan would map where infestations are across the city and create a clipping program to destroy the moths before they hatch next spring. It would also publicize the dangers of the moths to residents, including how to treat rashes, through the city’s website and social media.

Browntail moth caterpillars were long reported along Maine’s coast, but this month was the first time they became prevalent in Penobscot County, experts said.

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Contact with the caterpillars’ tiny, poisonous hairs — which can remain on trees, in gardens and on tables — can cause skin irritation comparable to poison ivy that can last several weeks and respiratory problems. The hairs can also go airborne and stay in the environment for up to two or three years once they are shed.

The plan will begin with city officials creating a system to track where moth infestations are located in the city. The public will also be able to report sightings with all confirmed infestations being put into a publicly accessible GIS map, Huotari said.

Most of Bangor’s caterpillars have already gone into cocoons, but they will reemerge in August and begin laying 200 to 400 eggs at a time. Those will then hatch in September and spread hairs before going into their winter cocoons.

The city will identify their nests and clip them beginning in November: the public works department will look for winter nests on roads, the cemetery division in cemeteries and the parks and recreation department in public parks.

“Every one of those you clip, you’re going to be destroying 200 to 400 caterpillars that next spring will be everywhere,” Huotari said.

The plan shows that city officials take the threat of browntail moth caterpillars seriously after several Bangor residents were exposed to their poisonous hairs this month. Officials hope eradication will stop a similar event from happening in the future.

The clipping program will likely be led by the public works’ forestry division, Huotari said. The city will also examine how to quickly spray pesticides on trees to stop the surviving caterpillars from spreading their hairs after they hatch in the spring.

However, that step could be unnecessary if Bangor sees a cool, moist spring, as those conditions will kill the caterpillars.

Huotari and Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette developed the plan with assistance from Public Health Director Patty Hamilton. All three of their departments had received numerous calls about the moths in past weeks.