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Brown tail moth

Size and colour

Caterpillars are between 7mm and 38mm long, dark brown in colour with a dotted white line down each side. They have two distinctive red dots in the middle of their back near the tail. The whole body is covered in tufts of brown hairs.


Caterpillars can be found on practically any type of tree or shrub. You might see the 'tents' in which they shelter in cold weather. These are formed of whitish silk and may incorporate a number of leaves. A single tent can contain hundreds of caterpillars. The tent might also be surrounded by an area of dead leaves.


The moth is found in considerable numbers along the coast of South-East England and can commonly be found in the Borough. The caterpillar will readily release tiny hairs which can cause a painful rash when they come into contact with a person's skin. The hairs can also be breathed in and this can cause more serious problems, especially for asthmatics and hay fever sufferers. Your eyes can be seriously affected by the hairs.

How should they be treated?

Although caterpillars can be sprayed with insecticide when they are outside their tents, this is not effective against those that remain inside. The only way to eliminate an infestation is to destroying tents during the colder months of the year when all the caterpillars are hibernating in them.

Can I treat them myself?

Yes, but you should know the risks and precautions you must take. Many irritant hairs from caterpillars are bound up in the silk tents and can easily become detached when tents are removed from the tree. These things should reduce the risk of being affected:

  1. Wear good protective clothing, preferably things that can be boiled after use and which can be made tight at the cuffs and ankles
  2. Cover as much bare skin as possible by wearing gloves, hood, boots, goggles
  3. If you are using a ladder, get someone to hold it steady
  4. Carefully remove the tents from the tree or shrub by cutting the branch or twig to which it is attached with secateurs
  5. Either burn the tents if you can do so safely without causing nuisance to neighbours or place them in plastic bags (one inside a second), seal tightly and take the bags to our amenity tip. There is no charge.
  6. Wash protective clothing in hot (boiling if possible) water
  7. You are strongly advised not to attempt to deal with an infestation if you:

If the infestation is of a size or location that considerable disturbance of the tents is inevitable, you should not deal with the problem yourself. If you feel you cannot or do not wish to carry out treatment yourself, we can give you an estimated price to carry it out for you. If you receive benefits, we may be able to carry out work for you free of charge.

What if you get a rash?

If the rash is serious or doesn't clear within two to three days, see your doctor. You can get some relief by applying calamine lotion or a proprietary cold spray from a chemist.

Please note:

If you have an infestation in a tree covered by a tree preservation order (TPO) or in a conservation area, you must not carry out any treatment without consulting us first.

Please take action:

If you think you may have an infestation on your land but are not sure, we would be happy to investigate.

If you see any infestation on land within the Borough, please let us know by emailing or telephoning 01329 236100.

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