Brown tail moth

This page is to provide advice and information on how you can help to prevent the spread of the brown tail moth and prevent you or your family suffering from the painful rash that the caterpillars can cause.

What is the brown tail moth?

The brown tail moth is dark brown in colour with a dotted white line down each side. It has two distinctive red dots on its tail end, and the whole body is covered in tuffs of brown hairs 


Where do they occur?

The caterpillars can be found on any type of tree or shrub, particularly when they emerge from their nests in warm weather. You might also see the nests in which the caterpillars live in during the evening, winter or in bad weather. These nests are referred to as "tents". The tents are formed out of fine whitish silk and may incorporate a number of leaves. A single tent can contain hundreds of caterpillars.


Should I contact the council?

If you notice any caterpillars or tents like these on council trees within the borough then do please contact us. It will help us prevent the spread of the infestation. If they are on your own trees or shrubbery, it is best to avoid the area and contact your local pest controller. Please note that we do not provide a treatment service for the brown tail moth on private trees. 


Can I treat the caterpillar infestation myself?

We would advise that it would be best to contact to local pest controller, particular if you suffer from hay fever, eczema, sensitive skin or are asthmatic. However, many people do treat them themselves. The caterpillars emerge from their nests in warm weather and Pyrethoid, which you can get from garden centres, is the most suitable and widely available chemical that can be sprayed on the caterpillars. Chemical spraying is only effective on the caterpillars themselves, not on the nests. If the caterpillars are in the "tents" it is best to physically remove the nests by using secateurs and drop the material into a plastic bag to then burn or put in another plastic bag and into a dustbin.


Should I take precautions?

Yes. We advise the following if you are treating the caterpillar infestation yourself:

  • Wear protective clothing such as rubber gloves, Wellington boots, goggles and thick clothing and cover all bare skin. 
  • If you are spraying insecticide follow the manufacturer's instructions and recommended safety measures. 
  • Only spray insecticide when the weather is fine and there is no wind or rain to avoid drift or run-off problems.
  • If you are using a ladder, either lash the ladder to the tree or get someone to stand at the foot of the ladder.

Wash (preferably boil) all the clothing after use as the irritant hairs will adhere to it.


What if I live in a Conservation Area, Estate Managed Area or the infestation is in a tree covered by a Tree Preservation Order?

If you have an infestation in a tree covered by a Tree Preservation Order, or in any tree in a Conservation Area or an Estate Managed Area, you must not carry out any treatment without first consulting the Planning Department.


What should I do if I get a rash?

The caterpillars release hairs into the air which can cause a skin irritation and in some cases the reaction can be quite severe. It is known that people can have severe reactions, particularly if they have sensitive skin, eczema, asthma or suffer from hay fever. If you are unfortunate and a rash does develop, it should last 2-3 days. During this time it will be irritable but you should not scratch. Applying calamine lotion can help. Contact your GP if the symptoms persist for longer.