by Margaret Gerber, Director of Stewardship
Summer in Maine has once again returned, and with it brings brightly colored gardens, lush green landscapes, and clear skies over cool rivers and bays. This is why many of us choose to live in Maine – to enjoy these spectacular summer months and spend as much time as we can outside. Warmer weather also brings with it many pests however, and being aware of them and how to react if you come into contact with ticks, browntail caterpillars, and poison ivy is an important part of enjoying the outdoors in Maine. Read on to learn more about these pests and precautions you can take before (and after) coming into contact with them to make your time outdoors more enjoyable.
Ticks are perhaps the most well-known harbinger of warmer weather in Maine, becoming more active in the early spring and remaining active throughout the fall. There are 15 different types of ticks that have been found in Maine, however the three types of tick most frequently found are deer ticks, dog ticks, and woodchuck ticks. Deer ticks are well known as carries of Lyme disease, which can cause a host of serious and sometimes long-lasting symptoms. They are most active during the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall when conditions are wet, however they can also be found during the warmer summer months. Ticks are very common and widespread during the summer months and therefore require both preventive measures as well as thorough tick checks after being outdoors, as ticks can carry and transmit multiple diseases at one time.
- Wear EPA-approved repellents.
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Wear long-sleeved, light-colored clothing.
- Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
- Take a shower within two hours after spending time outdoors to wash off any unattached ticks.
- Check your clothing and gear for ticks and do a full-body tick check when coming back indoors. Pay special attention to under the arms, behind the knees, between the legs, in and around the ears, in the belly button, around the waist, and in the hair.
To learn more, visit the state of Maine website on tick and mosquitos.
Browntail Moth Caterpillars
Our region has many red oak and white pine forests, so chances are you live somewhere near a stand of oak trees. If you do, then you’ve likely seen browntail caterpillars crawling on and around them this summer.
The browntail moth is an invasive species found only on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod and is notable due to it’s tiny poisonous hairs that cause rashes similar to poison ivy on sensitive individuals. People may develop dermatitis from direct contact with the caterpillar or indirectly from contact with airborne hairs. Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that will last for a few hours up to several days but on some sensitive individuals the rash can be severe and last for several weeks. The rash results from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin. Inhaling the hairs can cause serious respiratory issues.
Caterpillars are active from April to late June and their hairs remain toxic long after they become separated from the caterpillars. Over time the hairs get washed into the soil, becoming less airborne and likely to come into contact with.
- Avoid places heavily infested by caterpillars.
- Take a cool shower and change clothes after activity that might involve contact with hairs.
- Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs getting onto your clothing.
- Use caution cleaning debris left by caterpillars because the toxin is extremely stable and remains a hazard for a number of years.
- In heavily infested areas, wear respirator, goggles, and coveralls (tightly sealed at neck, wrist, and ankles) when:
- Mowing, raking, or weed-whacking
- Removing webbing
- Performing any activities that stir up browntail caterpillar hairs.
- Perform the above tasks on damp days or wet down material with a hose as moisture helps minimize contact by keeping the hairs from becoming airborne.
- Consult a physician if you develop a severe reaction.
For more information about browntail and ways that you can try to limit their spread, visit the state of Maine’s website dedicated to browntail.
Poison ivy is certainly not new to the Maine landscape, but it continues to be just as potent for those who have a reaction to it’s oils. The rash associated with poison ivy is caused by the oil urushiol, which is found in all parts of the plant. Poison ivy grows as a vine or shrub in a variety of habitats and can be found in fields, pastures, woodlands, farms and yards. While it prefers sunlight, poison ivy can be found in partly shaded/dappled sunlit areas such as forested wetlands and along trails.
Poison Ivy Precautions:
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.
- Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.
- After use, clean tools with rubbing alcohol (isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol) or soap and lots of water. Urushiol can remain active on the surface of objects for up to 5 years.
- Wear disposable gloves during this process.
- Do not burn plants that may be poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.
- Inhaling smoke from burning plants can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.
- If you do come into contact with poison ivy, rinse skin immediately
- Use rubbing alcohol, poison plant washes, degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water.
- Rinse often. This prevents wash solutions from drying on the skin and further spreading the urushiol. Urushoil is an oil in the plant that can cause an allergic reaction, referred to as contact dermatitis.
- Scrub under nails with a brush.