Research at Groden’s laboratory targets browntail moth infestations

Text below is an excerpt from UMaine News Update.

The browntail moth is an invasive species that was introduced into northeastern North America in the late 1800s. In the past several years, the population and range of the browntail moth has grown significantly, with more than 24,000 acres in Maine defoliated by their caterpillars in 2005. In addition to tree damage, the small toxic, barbed hairs on the caterpillar’s body present a serious concern for public health. The tiny hairs can induce painful poison ivy-like rashes and serious respiratory distress in those who come into contact with them. The irritating urticating hairs detach from the growing caterpillars and become airborne as they molt, settling on line-drying clothing, backyard picnic tables and patio furniture, and the ground surrounding the infested trees. Once in the environment, the hairs can retain their toxicity for three years.

Dr. Eleanor Groden, a professor of entomology in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine, focuses her research on understanding the natural enemies of the browntail moth — the various parasitoids, fungi and viruses that target the caterpillars, and may be used to help curb the rapidly expanding moth populations affecting Maine’s communities. UMaine’s research is part of a larger initiative, one in collaboration with Charlene Donahue, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, as well as a growing network of concerned citizen groups who seek to monitor and identify new infestations and develop pest management strategies in areas experiencing an outbreak.