Leaves on an oak tree on Peaks Island that were eaten by browntail moth caterpillars in 1996. Staff photo by Jack Milton

ORONO — A scientist with the University of Maine says the Pine Tree State’s trouble with a moth that defoliates trees and irritates people is likely to be bad this year.

Maine has a problem with the browntail moth, which is an invasive species that lives in the state. The moth harms some fruit trees and native trees, and its caterpillars have barbed hairs that can cause severe dermatitis in people. They can also cause respiratory problems for sensitive people.

The Maine Forest Service conducted an aerial survey in fall 2018 that showed more than 126,000 impacted acres, which was double the amount two years earlier.

University of Maine entomologist Eleanor Groden says the problem with the insect is spreading in the state. She’s working with the forest service on management strategies.

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