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Fungus kills browntail moth caterpillars in areas of Maine

The moths are dying off in the midcoast and parts of the capital because of rainfall in the last two weeks.

PORTLAND, Maine — Editor's note: The video attached to this story was published April 4, 2022. 

A fungus found to kill browntail moth caterpillars has made an appearance in Maine, potentially easing tension for Mainers dealing with the itchy rash, respiratory issues and other problems caused by the caterpillars, researchers said.

“We’re really pretty cautiously optimistic that there’s going to be some relief in parts of the outbreak area,” Allison Kanoti, the director of forest health and monitoring at the Maine Forest Service said.

Officials predicted this year that warm weather would lead to an increase of the caterpillars, which are detrimental to trees and people in the area. But the moths are dying off in the mid-coast and parts of the capital because of rainfall in the last two weeks; the fungus thrives in cool, wet conditions, The Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday.

“It’s not been a wet spring in particular, but there appears to have been enough moisture, enough fungus around in the environment and enough caterpillars to trigger a disease in the caterpillar population,” Kanoti said. “That is good news for those who live in that area and hopeful news for those who live outside it.”

The Maine Forest Service said it found that some caterpillars died from fungus-related causes at a few testing sites. But outside of those areas, the effects of the caterpillars can still be felt.

Kanoti said the state hasn't done enough research to know for sure which areas will be affected by the fungal disease but “an outbreak doesn’t last forever. These things do pass.”

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