GARDINER — As central Maine gears up for its escalating battle with the browntail moth, the Gardiner Public Library is set to arm its patrons.

The library has a new pole pruner that it plans to make available for patrons to check out.

It has also scheduled a free informational session for 10 a.m. Saturday on removing the nests of the invasive pest from trees, given by Colleen Teerling, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service.

Teerling is also expected to show people how to cut the nests down, using the library’s pole pruner.

City employees cut browntail moth nests from trees Thursday in downtown Gardiner. After they removed the nests, workers dunked them into a large bucket of soapy water to kill the eggs. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That is one of the events that has been organized for February, which is Browntail Moth Awareness Month, to educate people on how to take steps to control the expanding population of browntail moths, whose toxic caterpillar hairs can cause severe rashes and respiratory distress.

The Forest Service’s website — — includes listings of events across the state, resources and other useful information.


Entomologists say the insect has been spreading west and north from the state’s southern coast, and is now found in every Maine county, except York. And as bad as the infestation was last year, this year could prove worse, officials said.

Teerling said she had heard years ago about a library in another Maine community beset with the pests making a pole pruner available to card holders and approached her library in Gardiner with the idea.

“So I just said: ‘Is this something in your mandate that you might consider? It’s a service to the community and they jumped right on it,'” she said. “I thought that was wonderful because that area of Gardiner is just going to be hammered this year.”

Dawn Thistle, assistant director at the Gardiner Public Library, holds up the library’s new pole pruner Thursday. The pruner is available for library patrons to check out to remove browntail moth nests from trees. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Dawn Thistle, assistant director at the Gardiner Public Library, said the Palermo Community Library and the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick also have pruners available for patrons.

“This is a community need right now,” Thistle said. “We ended up getting a nice, sturdy one, which may seem a little intimidating to people, but it’s built to last.”

While Teerling is an entomologist for the Forest Service, she is not the state’s expert on the browntail moth. But like her colleagues, she said, she knows about the browntail moth and measures to slow its spread.


The moths are native to Europe and western Asia. They are considered invasive in the United States, where they first introduced in Somerville, Massachusetts, more than a century ago.

Since then, they have spread up the coastal region into Maine. Over the past few years, they have pushed inland and across central Maine.

Places such as Waterville have declared the browntail moth a public health crisis and encouraged community members to have a role in attacking the pests.

The lifecycle of the moth is about a year. In late summer or early fall, larvae begin to emerge from eggs laid by moths. They start to build nests in the branches of trees, where they spend the winter.

Entomologists recommend destroying nests in the winter, before the larvae emerge. Nests can contain between 25 and 400 caterpillars.

Left unchecked, the larvae emerge and start feeding. As they mature into caterpillars, they develop toxic hairs that can cause rashes when they come into contact with skin and respiratory distress for those who inhale them.


Generally by June, they pupate, and in July they emerge as moths to begin the cycle again.

Earlier in the month, the Hallowell Conservation Commission hosted a Zoom presentation with Teerling’s colleague, Tom Schmeelk, the state’s lead entomologist for the browntail moth.

Rosemary Presnar, chairwoman of the Hallowell Conservation Commission, said people were concerned about the impact of the caterpillars and had a range of questions.

While Presnar has been vocal for years about the impact of the browntail moth, she said there are plenty of people across central Maine who might still be unprepared.

“We’ve had so many new families move in to the region from the pandemic,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting this summer, when they may not be tuned into the newspaper or the municipalities reaching out, and they may be surprised they have rashes after working in their yards.”

Presnar said the Hallowell Conservation Commission has donated a pole pruner to the Hubbard Free Library for patrons to borrow, and the commission has several it can loan out.


While this winter has been harsher than the last several, Teerling said that is not expected to have an impact on the survival rate of browntail moth larvae. The later fall and earlier spring seasons are favorable for larvae growth and survival.

Teerling said she encourages anyone to remove nests that can be reached safely, taking care to avoid overhead power lines and other hazards. If hazards are present or nests are too high, a tree service should be called.

Once the nests are down, they can be burned, if allowed in the community, or dropped into a bucket of soapy water, which kills the eggs.

While the larvae will not have the toxic hairs found on mature caterpillars, Teerling said if caterpillars have been in the area, the toxic hairs they shed could still cause rashes or respiratory problems.

“They can be toxic up to three years,” she said.

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