Careful! This caterpillar is poisonous, so don’t touch

CREDIT: Jim McCormac
CREDIT: Jim McCormac

COLUMBUS (WCMH)—We have reached that time of the years when folks begin to send us their pictures of woolly bear caterpillars to gain insight regarding the nature of the upcoming winter, if you believe the folklore.

The more narrow the red-brown band on the caterpillar, the harsher the winter; a broad russet band down the middle of the woolly worm supposedly tilts toward a mild winter, like this past year.

More interesting, however, may be two other increasingly common fall sightings—including a common caterpillar that is mildly poisonous.

“The fall webworms are fairly well covered with white hairs, with some small darker dots on the body,“ Shetlar said.


Yet even more striking are the hickory tussock moths, widespread in the northeastern United States, which Shetlar said is “covered with long white hair and have several tufts of black hairs sticking out.” He added, “the fall webworms can be handled, but the hickory tussock moths have stinging hairs.”

Shetlar noted that there is another stinging moth–the American dagger moth–that is white or yellow with black tufts.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources naturalist Jim McCormac also warned against picking up the prickly hickory tussock moth, in his nature blog. “Sensitive people can receive a rather nettlelike rash from handling the caterpillars. The effects are normally mild and fade fairly quickly. A good rule of thumb with caterpillars is to NOT HANDLE them, especially hairy or spiny species. Many species, such as this one, are armed with stinging hairs as a predator deterrent.”

McCormac said you can see the hickory tussock moth marching along by itself or in groups, occasionally hanging from the foliage above your head attached to its silk strand.

The larvae are “very common statewide and visible from early summer (June and July) to late fall (caterpillars mature into September). Just saw several today,” McCormac wrote, in his message from the field.



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