It’s May which traditionally means the beginning of moth season. Spring is when most clothes moths start to emerge and start looking for somewhere to mate and lay eggs.
Today the Forestry Commission posted an alert about the oak processionary moth which is at most risk to the public in May and June when they shed their toxic hairs before pupating into moths. Each caterpillar has over 600,000 hairs that cause itchiness, inflammation and respiratory problems when humans are exposed to them. The hairs can be blown on the wind or left in the silken, web-like nests which the caterpillars build in oak trees. If you see such nests, similar to the one pictured right by the pine processionary moth, do not touch them as it can cause itchy skin rashes, eye and throat irritation.
The oak processionary can damage oak trees by feeding on the leaves, in some cases leaving the trees severely defoliated and vulnerable to other threats. So far, the oak processionary moth has only been sighted in the South East of England.
The Oak Processionary Moth most likely came into Britain as over-wintering eggs on semi-mature trees imported for planting in landscaping projects. It began breeding in several locations including the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Richmond Park.
The oak processionary only nests outside but in the home the creamy coloured common clothes moth and the brown, mottled brown house moth can ruin clothes, fabrics, furs, leather and carpets. The damage is done by the maggot-like larvae so prevention of a moth problem is important.
If you are packing away your winter woollies make sure the garments are clean as dirty or soiled clothing is particularly attractive to moths. The insects like to lay eggs in dark and rarely disturbed areas so often the damage is done before you realise. Lofts are a risk because moths are attracted to bird nests that may be in the eaves of the house. Keep textiles stored in sealed plastic bags or suitcases. Get rid of moths before they hatch by regularly vacuuming under dark, quiet places like furniture to remove moth eggs before they hatch. This is particularly important if there has been a previous infestation or if you have noticed increased levels of moth activity.