Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Don't touch this guy!
The hickory tussock moth begins its life as a white caterpillar. It is not a fully white caterpillar, however, as it has an attractive design of black tufts along the middle of the back, with black spots down the sides of its body and a black head.
The hairs on the caterpillar are long and bristle-like and spread out in tufts down the sides. Two long, sharp, black pencil-like hairs protrude near the front and rear of the creature, and these hairs are connected to poison glands, which excrete venom on contact.
Contact with the venom does not generally cause too much of a problem. A nettle or poison ivy-type rash often occurs, which can range from mild with slight reddening of the skin, to burning, swelling and pain, none of which should keep you away from your gardening duties for too long. Hypersensitive individuals may, of course, experience more severe symptoms that could include swelling and nausea. Washing the affected area with soap and water, taking antihistamines, or using ammonia, calamine lotion, or an ice pack can help to alleviate most minor symptoms fairly quickly. People who do experience more severe reactions, however, should seek expert medical advice as soon as possible.
The hickory tussock moth caterpillar can be found in southern Canada, South to North Carolina and Ohio in North America. The eggs are laid in large groups on the underside of leaves, and the caterpillars are commonly seen from around June to September. Hickory moth caterpillars, like most caterpillars, have rather insatiable appetites, and can grow to around 1.5 inches in length. They are very partial to nut trees, such as pecan, hickory and walnut, but will also eat a variety of other things, such as ash, oak, willow, apple, elm, raspberry, corn leaves, vegetable plants and various shrubs.