WATERVILLE — The city’s browntail moth survey results draw a troubling picture.

One Waterville resident wrote that tens of thousands of browntail moth caterpillars were crawling on his or her house and had to be scraped off with soapy water.

Many people reported experiencing itchy rashes and said the invasive species defoliated their trees and caused some trees to die.

“This is the kind of feedback that we had been hoping to garner,” City Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, said.

Klepach recently updated the Waterville City Council and municipal officials on the survey, sent to residents in early January. The city is seeking residents’ help in identifying where browntail moth nests are located.

The short survey on the city’s website is being conducted with help from Bartlett Tree Experts of Scarborough.


Klepach launched a browntail investigation last year after residents reported having problems. City officials are trying to determine whether nests can be destroyed and if people want to help with treatment efforts.

Microscopic, poisonous hairs shed by browntail moth caterpillars in spring and summer cause rashes similar to those caused by poison ivy. If inhaled, the airborne hairs can cause respiratory issues.

Klepach said 298 people so far had returned the survey. Of the respondents, 272 are property owners and 26 renters.

Of the 298, 211 said they had seen browntail moth activity at their properties, primarily in oak, apple and other fruit trees, he said. A large number of residents reported not having had an opportunity to deal with the problem.

Klepach said 204 respondents categorized the infestation as severe and asked for help with advice or direct treatment.

“They feel overwhelmed by it,” he said.


Waterville residents and other city property owners may continue to fill out the surveys, and new data can be added at any time.

A faculty member in the biology department at Colby College in Waterville, Klepach urged city officials last June to address the problem. The following month, the City Council voted unanimously to allocate $100,000 to the effort.

The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention approved the city’s declaring browntail moths a public nuisance, which allows the city to spend public money on public and private property, with permission from private landowners, and advocate for state-level action and resources for municipalities.

The council in June declared a public emergency and the need to protect residents from browntail moths.

Maine lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering starting a fund to help cities and towns slow the spread of the moths, according to The Associated Press.

The fund would begin with $150,000 in grants in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The money could be used by municipalities and nonprofit groups for activities that control the spread of browntail moths, such as hiring arborists and pesticide applicators and renting equipment to cut down moth nests.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story