Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

hickory-tussock-moth-caterpillarIf you’re out playing in the forest this weekend, don’t pick up any caterpillars.

After the London Middlesex Health Unit sent out a notice to let the public know about the potential allergic reaction caused by the hickory tussock moth caterpillar, local wildlife experts say it’s best to leave all caterpillars alone.

“Some people don’t react at all,” said Karen Cedar, the education coordinator at the Ojibway Nature Centre. “Some people might even get hives from it.”

This fuzzy-looking black and white caterpillar is one of many that uses tufts of prickly hair to ward of predators, Cedar explained. But the tufts contain a toxin that can cause mild allergic reactions such as skin irritation and reddening. The reaction can be similar to that caused by poison ivy.

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar is usually seen on trees like hickory, ash, elm, oak and willow so it’s more likely you will come across it in the forest than in your back yard, Cedar said.

Right now is the time of year when caterpillars start to look for places to cocoon, so you might even see them wandering around on the forest floor.

If you absolutely must move a caterpillar, use a leaf rather than your hands, she said.

If you happen to touch one of the fuzzy critters, the Middlesex London Health Unit recommends washing the affected area with soap and water and applying ice or calamine lotion if there is redness or swelling. You may need to see a doctor if the allergic reaction is more serious.

Windsor Star Last Updated: Oct 04, 2013 – 10:19 PM EDT

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