This Canadian native can be found throughout New England and as far south as the Carolinas. Although it may look cute and harmless, the fuzzy hairs on this caterpillar contain venom and can cause an itchy rash if touched.
The White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar is fuzzy and mostly white, with a black stripe down their spine and two longer black hairs on each end. The hairs are barbed on the ends, so they may leave venomous hairs embedded in your skin if you brush up against one. Although it is relatively harmless, some people can have an allergic reaction to the caterpillar’s “sting,” so it’s best to leave them alone.
If you do come in contact with one and develop a rash, make sure to wash it with soap and warm water. After cleaning it, it can usually be treated at home with ice for swelling and calamine lotion for itching. You may also want to take an antihistamine to help relieve any symptoms. If your reaction is severe, seek medical attention right away.
Make sure to keep your pets away from these caterpillars as they can also experience a reaction if they come into contact with them, which can be especially harmful if swallowed. Also keep a close eye on children when playing outside as reactions can be more common in young kids.
The caterpillar’s are mostly commonly seen between June and September and they will spend their days eating foliage and preparing for their upcoming transformation. They will then create their cocoons, where they will stay safe and hidden until they emerge as moths in the spring.