PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A species of moth infamous for an itchy, painful rash caused by the hairs of its larvae increased in population and territory in Maine this year and will likely spread even more in 2017.

The browntail moth is an invasive insect that came to New England from Europe just before the turn of the 19th century. The moths begin their lives as caterpillars with poisonous hairs that can cause skin irritation resembling a poison ivy rash.

Maine forest entomologist Charlene Donahue says the caterpillars clearly spread this year as six times more acreage of trees was defoliated this fall over last. They have been found in more Maine coastal regions.

Donahue says recent dry weather may have allowed the caterpillars to thrive.