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Brown-tailed moth caterpillar

Photo of a brown tailed moth caterpillarThe brown-tailed moth caterpillar (euproctis chrysorrhoea) is a fairly common pest in the south-east of England, where it will frequently eat all the leaves on any number of trees and shrubs.

While the presence of this pest can lead to significant localised outbreaks if it is not controlled, only those trees or shrubs stressed by disease or drought are likely to die.

In spring the caterpillars emerge from their silken tents and proceed to feed on the leaves and buds of trees and shrubs. They are up to 38mm in length and covered in tufts of light brown hair with two lines of white hair on their backs.

Adult moths, which emerge in July, lay batches of up to 500 eggs in August. Young caterpillars hatch a few weeks later and feed on leaves until leaf fall in the autumn. Throughout this period, caterpillars are smaller and covered in dark brown hairs, with two noticeable orange warts at one end.

During late summer and autumn, caterpillars construct conspicuous white silken tents on exposed branches, in which they over-winter.

Apart from eating the leaves of trees and shrubs, the caterpillars have a secret weapon that can cause problems. Their bodies are covered with minute, barbed hairs. These can affect some people by causing irritation to the skin, eyes or respiratory system.

Although the irritation should only last a few hours, avoidance is far better than cure. If handling these pests, it is recommended that areas of bare skin be covered and that rubber gloves and a facemask are used. If you have a reaction to these caterpillars, medical advice should be sought from your GP.

If noticed during the winter months, the tents can be carefully cut off and burnt. However between April and June and from August to October, the pest is somewhat more difficult to control, as the caterpillars are on the move.

For small infestations in private gardens, an application of a pesticide formulated for caterpillars is advised. Pesticides for domestic use are available from garden and DIY centres. Before applying pesticides, always read the manufacturer’s instructions.

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