Be Aware Of The Brown-Tail Moth This Summer
Residents of Heybridge Basin near Maldon will attest to the panic caused by the brown-tail moth caterpillar which invaded their village last year.
Essex is under attack from an invasion of toxic caterpillars that are causing panic across the county as well as other parts of the south-east. Caterpillars such as the brown-tail moth and the oak processionary moth are dangerous and can cause severe reactions if you come into contact with them. Unfortunately, residents of Heybridge Basin had more than their fair share of contact with the brown-tail moth caterpillar during 2017.
The Caterpillar Cycle
The brown-tail moth starts life within a cocoon, where pupation occurs on a host plant at the beginning of summer. Ideal hosts for this species are from the Rosaceae family, which includes foliage such as the blackberry, cherry, rose, hawthorn or blackthorn plants. The adult moths emerge during July and August where they lay large batches of up to 250 eggs which are covered in brown hairs. It takes around three weeks for the caterpillars to hatch, when they immediately begin to create the distinctive webbing that is a tell-tale sign that an invasion has taken hold in your garden or surroundings. Following the winter, in April the caterpillars begin feeding again and grow up to 30mm long. They’re covered in brown hairs which can break off and cause an intense reaction in those who come into contact with them.
Any encounter with the brown-tail moth caterpillar can cause a reaction of some sort. The brown hairs are urticating, meaning that they are irritating when they come into contact with human skin. However, symptoms such as headaches and even blindness if these hairs reach the eyes are possible.
Panic In Essex Village
When thousands of caterpillars set up home in Heybridge Basin last summer, the residents were understandably panicked once they understood the implications of this particular pest. One local resident, 71-year old Jill Doubtfire was unaware of the dangers of the brown-tail moth when she found a caterpillar lodged in her collar. Within a couple of hours, she’d broken out in an intense rash on her neck. As she describes it, “I came out in a huge rash on my neck, it was like 100 bug bites around my neck all joined up. I wanted to rip my flesh off. It was so itchy. Once I realised that it wasn’t just a small insect bite, I looked up treatments, which included using chamomile lotions, and after about four days the rash went down. I wouldn’t like to see anyone else go through what I did, especially children.”
A relative of the brown-tail moth caterpillar known as the oak processionary moth has also taken grip of the south-east, making its presence known throughout London and parts of the surrounding counties. This species is only found attached to oak trees, but the effects of the pest are equally as dramatic. Gardeners with asthma need to be particularly cautious as the oak processionary moth is known to cause asthma attacks which can be fatal.
Those living in affected areas of the south-east are kept well informed about the dangers of these toxic caterpillars and various factsheets and posters have been produced to ensure the public know what steps to take. If you do spot either type of caterpillar in your garden, it’s essential that you contact Essex Pest Control who will be able to safely destroy the cocoon and treat the surrounding area.