Brown Tail Moth caterpillars are found in hedgerows and many
trees, they can irritate the skin and cause a painful rash. The
caterpillar is blackish-grey with tufts of ginger-brown hairs. The
most noticeable features are two orange spots near the tail.
These moths lay 200-300 eggs on the leaves of trees and shrubs
in late summer. Small caterpillars hatch and start to feed on the
leaves. To survive the winter they spin a white 'tent' around
themselves and these can easily be seen when the leaves have
fallen. In the Spring the caterpillars leave their winter home and
disperse over the foliage. They feed on the leaves until they are
about 1½ inches (3.5cm) long. Towards the end of the summer they
moult, pupate and then emerge as adult moths.
Numbers have increased during the last few years. They may strip
all the leaves on shrubs and trees if they become established. The
hairs on the caterpillars are very fine and if they are touched
will cause considerable irritation to the skin which can develop
into a rash. Consult a doctor if this is severe.
Prevention and control
The best way to control them is to remove the 'tents' in the
autumn by cutting off affected twigs. The tents should be sealed in
a plastic bag and then either burnt or put in a wheelie bin. The
tents themselves should be disturbed as little as possible and
gloves should be worn to protect the skin.
Additionally, chemical sprays for killing crawling insects are
available from garden centres, larger chemist shops and
ironmongers. Attention should be paid to manufacturers'
instructions before use. If you do not like using chemicals, try a
strong solution of washing-up liquid to seven parts water) but
remember that if used in direct sunshine it will damage the
Note: Hawthorn, English Elm, Dog Rose, Apple, Pear, Forsythia,
Blackthorn, Sea Blackthorn and many other trees and shrubs may be
host to the caterpillar.
Precautions to take
1. Cover your skin well and wear:
- Thick clothing
- Rubber gloves
2. Take care when spraying
- Always wear goggles
- Follow the instructions
- Spray in fine weather only, do not spray on windy days
3. Take care on ladders, lash it to the trees, or get someone to
4. Finally when you finish work, rinse or wash all your
clothing, boots, gloves, etc very carefully to remove all traces of
chemicals and caterpillar hairs.
This information can also be downloaded and read in the attached
PDF information leaflet.