BY ANDREW SMITH
PERTH COUNTY – It may look soft and fuzzy, but the hickory tussock moth caterpillar may rub unwanted visitors the wrong way.
Debbie Matheson, public health nurse with the Perth District Health Unit, says this is the usual time of the year for the small white caterpillar to make an appearance throughout southwestern Ontario, and a few inquires have already come into the PDHU health line.
“It seems to be this time of year that we traditionally get calls, always sort of the end of September,” she said. “They’re white and fuzzy and they look very appealing, and I can see if I was a child I would
definitely want to investigate further.”
The problem is that contact with the hickory tussock moth caterpillar often results in a rash, caused by poison glands on the caterpillar’s long black hairs that excrete venom. Although Matheson said some people are more sensitive to the venom than others, it usually just leaves an uncomfortable rash.
“It’s usually just a contact rash that feels like stinging nettle or poison ivy,” Matheson said. “Most people just get a burning sensation, but you can get some swelling and pain.”
Matheson recommends treating the rash by washing it with soap and water, then applying calamine lotion or ice packs. If the rash persists, Matheson says a doctor should be contacted.
“I think anyone who’s enjoying the outside really just needs to be aware that this caterpillar exists and they should not touch it,” Matheson said.
For more information, call the PDHU health line at 1-877-271-7348 ext. 267.