Is the box tree moth poisonous?
The box tree moth caterpillars feed on the toxic buxus. Find out here whether the box caterpillars are poisonous and if they can be touched safely.
Many regions of Europe are affected by the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis). During the treatment, one has to really get up close and personal to the moth as well as its caterpillars. The bright green colouring and the hairs of the caterpillar can lead to the question if the insect is dangerous. Allow us to reassure you. The caterpillars are definitely annoying but not poisonous to humans.
Are box tree moths poisonous?
Can they be touched with bare hands and can birds eat them? In the following, we will explain everything about the toxicity of the box tree moth.
Is the box tree moth poisonous? We have to answer this question with a yes. The larvae of the box tree moth eat the leaves of the box tree (Buxus), which contains about 70 different, mostly poisonous alkaloids in leaves and bark. Young larvae even prefer older leaves, which contain alkaloids in particularly high concentrations. Some of these substances are metabolized by the caterpillars, others are stored in the body as effective predator repellents. In this way, the offspring of the box tree moth becomes inedible or even poisonous for many animals (so mind your pets around box trees and box tree moths!). Also for humans, the toxins contained in the box tree are actually poisonous. The good news is: according to experts, touching the box tree and box moth or caterpillars is nevertheless harmless, because the alkaloids involved are not absorbed through the skin. In short, you can touch the box tree moths without any worries. Just avoid eating the insect and its caterpillars (which we assume shouldn’t be hard!).
Tip: Allergic skin inflammations after contact with the box tree are possible, although very rare. Therefore, always keep a close eye on children when handling box trees and box caterpillars.
Is the box tree moth poisonous to birds?
Although the box tree moth caterpillars should be poisonous to birds and other animals, there have been reports that titmice, redstarts, sparrows, starlings and even wasps are growing to like the larvae. It remains to be seen, however, whether these birds and insects are actually suitable as natural predators, as it has been observed several times that birds regurgitate their prey after some time. The adult moths, on the other hand, are eaten by birds seemingly without issues.
Tip: If you want to profit from the birds’ interest in the box tree moth, you should promote them and other beneficial animals in the garden. You can find out more about these and other natural control methods in our special article.
Can I touch the box tree moth with my hands?
The box tree moths can be touched safely. This also applies to the box tree caterpillars with restrictions. Allergic skin reactions occur only in extremely rare cases. What would do little harm to an adult could possibly affect children more severely, which is why you should not let them play too long with the caterpillars. Short contact is normally not a problem. If you are worried and want to be on the safe side, you can wear gloves when collecting or examining the caterpillars and wash your hands after contact with the insects.
Collecting box tree moth caterpillars by hand
Simply collecting the caterpillars of the box tree moth can be a first control step if the situation is still manageable. If, for example, only a few eggs were laid in the outer areas, the hatched larvae can be removed by hand before they move into the dense interior of the shrub. If you find well-developed caterpillars, that are approximately five centimetres long, on the outside of the shrub, you can assume that the infestation is already so severe that collecting them will no longer have any effect. Now you should resort to other means to get rid of the box tree moth. Here you will find all the information you need for treating the box tree moth. If you are specifically looking for natural methods of treatment, you will find what you are looking for in this article.
Tip: Cutting back the box tree is even easier than trying to collect the larvae and eggs by hand. The cut off parts should be packed in sealed bags and disposed of as residual waste. The cutting back should take place no later than two weeks after observing the first flight of the adult moths – discovered, for example, with a pheromone trap – is the first step towards a box tree without the pest.