"For a long time I just thought it was a cute little fuzzy caterpillar," said Paul Pratt, chief naturalist at the Ojibway Nature Reserve in Windor, Ontario. And while they are related to rusty brown and black woolly bear caterpillars, these have turned out to be highly venomous.
Known as hickory tussock moth caterpillars, the bugs are about 5 cm long, white, with a few big tufts of black hair near its front and back, that unfortunately are attached to poison glands.As a result, both Pratt and The Middlesex-London Health Unit is adults to make sure that kids in their care avoid touching them.
“If you touch these tufts, the glands will excrete venom, and can get a reaction much like getting in a patch of stinging nettles," he said. "For most people it will sting and itch for 20 minutes or so before it goes away, so it's best not to handle them."
Symptoms can range from a slight skin reddening to a burning sensation with swelling and pain, or even nausea. The health unit recommends those experiencing a reaction to wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible. In the case of itching or swelling, apply calamine lotion and ice packs.
Although the hickory tussock moth caterpillars are most common from July to September, when they morph into orange-colored moths, Pratt warns that their stings are also found in their cocoons as well, “because the caterpillar hairs are used in the shell to discourage predators.”