The number of Browntail moth winter webs counted along Lincolnville roadsides this January indicate the invasive and poisonous pest is prevalent in many areas of the town.

The webs are silk-wrapped leaves, usually located at the tops of trees, and can contain 25 to 400 small caterpillars. As the caterpillars grow and shed in late spring, their hairs become toxic. Contact with the hairs can cause rashes and respiratory ailments.

Winter web counts are an early predictor of the severity of Browntail moth infestation.

Conservation Commission members Will Brown and Richard Smith and volunteer Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton presented data from the first winter web survey completed in the Midcoast region to Lincolnville selectmen Feb. 24.

They asked for Board of Selectmen approval to submit the survey results to the Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry. Submission of the survey places the town in line for funding to deal with the invasive moth in the future, Brown said. Selectmen voted to approve the submission.

The Commission credited volunteers Jurewicz-Leighton, a science instructor, and Lizz and Bruce Laycock for their ongoing support of the effort.

Jurewicz-Leighton said Feb. 25 that Lizz Laycock initiated the citizen survey, first researching options and later contacting state agencies and requesting the training. The Forestry Service also conducts roadside surveys, which will not be released until later in the spring.

A citizen survey team of 18 members was trained by State Entomologist Tom Schmeelk Jan. 8. The volunteers divided themselves into eight two-person teams, each with a driver and an observer, counting webs along 43 miles of roadway Jan. 20 through Feb. 3.

The team members divided the town into eight routes, and documented Browntail moth web counts and GPS coordinates in 144 locations. The web counts range from major infestations where 1,000 to 4,99 winter webs were counted, to patches in other areas containing 1 to 99 webs.

Some of the areas where major infestations of webs were observed include Maiden Cliff and Fernald's Neck road and Route 52 across from the fire station.

Several areas of major infestation along Route 235 include the area between Narrow Road and the Hope town line, near the Moody Mountain Road intersection and near Martin Corner Road.

Major infestations were observed in a total of 24 areas. Patches containing 500-999 webs were observed in 18 locations, and in 100 to 499 webs in 26 areas.

Jurewicz-Leighton told selectmen that in 2018-19 state maps depicted the Lincolnville area in a moderate infestation zone. Predictions for 2019-20 put Lincolnville in a moderate to major infestation category she said. Fielding questions, she said the growth of a fungus that can kill the caterpillars depends on wet spring weather.

Jeff Leighton asked town officials to consider warning residents about infested areas once the caterpillars emerge, and to provide information about precautions that can be taken to prevent contact with the caterpillars' toxic hairs, including masks and protective clothing for those outdoors and formulas sold by pharmacies to alleviate itching.