Brown-tail moth

Posted: Monday 10 June 2013
by Adam Pasco

Brown-tail moth caterpillars can cause devastation among plants. Their discovery comes with a health warning for people living around them, too.

Brown-tail moth caterpillar

The arrival of a new pest can send a shiver down your spine. While walking to a friend's house at the weekend, I was horrified to discover a long stretch of hawthorn and bramble hedgerow being devoured by caterpillars of the brown-tail moth.

Nearby cherry trees have also been completely defoliated, and there is a row of plants with skeletonised leaves highlighting the caterpillars’ slow path along the front gardens of a new housing development.

Brown-tail moth caterpillars can cause devastation among plants. Their discovery comes with a health warning for people living around them, too. They’re covered in tiny hairs, which, if broken off during contact, can cause skin irritations and rashes. This pest has been prevalent in southern counties for some time, and most local authorities produce fact sheets for residents, with advice on dealing with them.

Brown-tail moth caterpillars aren't solitary. They live in vast colonies, building impressive webs that several hundred caterpillars can hide and shelter inside. Reports show that they can feed on a vast range of plants, particularly trees and shrubs, including beech, wisteria, apples, pears, elder, spiraea and many more.

This was the first time I'd seen this pest 'in the flesh', and I only got close enough to take a few pictures. I remember when I first encountered vine weevil and lily beetle. Both are now regular pests in my garden, without natural predators to keep them under control. Thankfully New Zealand flatworms haven't made it to my garden in the East Midlands, but I'll never be complacent.

While I can't stop pests arriving of their own accord, I always check new plants and their compost for pests to avoid introducing them unintentionally. In future, I'll be on the lookout for brown-tail moths in my garden. Anyone who has them certainly has my sympathy.

If you have experienced an invasion of brown-tail moths this year, which plants were targeted? Plus, if you have any advice for the rest of us to help prevent our gardens becoming feeding grounds for them in the future, let us know.

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Talkback: Brown-tail moth
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Laura Barker 13/06/2013 at 00:51

I havr found just one of these the other day will be on the look out now for them

Dovefromabove 13/06/2013 at 06:31

Did you find a moth or a caterpillar Laura - it would be unusual to find just one caterpiller on it's own. 

nutcutlet 13/06/2013 at 08:05

But don't kill them please, the moths are beautifuland part of our natural world


Asia 24/06/2013 at 07:05

brown-tail moth ate all my gooseberry leaves within one night. how to get rid of those pests, please

Trucker 25/06/2013 at 19:47

These caterpillars devastated my rhodedendron last year. It did flower this year and its leaves are just recovering. However I've just today seen new caterpilars (so far only 3-4mm long) all over it again. Any advice on what I can spray on it to get rid of them?

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