The Brown Tail Moth can quickly damage a lot of vegetation and cause painful rashes.
Learn how to identify, treat and prevent the spread of this pest.
How do I know if a garden has an infestation?
The brown tail moth caterpillars live in groups for shelter from bad weather but also hibernation in the winter.
As they spread, it's possible to see individual caterpillars or areas of trees or bushes that have lost all their leaves where the caterpillars have been feeding.
It is important not to touch the clumps of cobweb like material, which releases irritant hairs when disturbed, so it is important to wear protective clothing when carrying out any work around infested areas.
The caterpillars emerge during warm weather, specially during Spring in May, and can come back in September and October, and although not so apparent, they can still cause leaves to turn brown.
How do I identify the Brown Tail Moth?
The caterpillar of the Brown Tail Moth is brown, with a dotted white line down each side and two very distinctive red dots on the back of its tail.
It can often be confused with the Lackey Moth - a less harmful caterpillar with similar characteristics.
Both are voracious eaters of vegetation, especially in the spring when they emerge from their eggs, and although it prefers blackberry and hawthorn plants, it will eat practically any type of tree or bush.
Why should you prevent the spread?
Brown tail moth catterpillars can spread very fast and cause a lot of problems.
Heavily infested shrubs and trees are weakened by the loss of foliage, affecting growth, flowering and fruits fail to mature.
This caterpillar also releases irritant hairs into the air, which can cause skin irritation, and affect some people quite severely, taking 2-3 days to clear, with some individuas requiring medical attention.
How to treat a brown tail moth catterpillar infestation?
Affected areas and clusters of caterpillars should be collected in a plastic bag and disposed safely, either by incinaration or suffocation, placing in a air tight bag in the waste disposal.
Pyrethoid is the most suitable chemical treatment, but not effective when the caterpillars return to their nests in the evening and during bad weather.
For either type of treatement, a number of precautions should be taken to prevent contact with the insects.
All bare skinshould be covered by wearing thick clothing, rubber gloves, wellington boots and as far as possible cover your eyes and face.
If spraying insecticides, the manufacturer's instructions and recommended safety measures should be followed.
If you are unfortunate to get a rash, it will only normally last 2-3 days. During this time it will be very irritable but you should not scratch.
Some of the relief can be contained by applying calamine lotion. If the rash persists, see your doctor.