Summary: 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 infected 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 (3.8 cms) 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.
Although the hickory tussock moth caterpillar can cause destruction at times, such as defoliating individual trees, the problem doesn't usually escalate to the point that they cause too much long-term damage. There are, of course, a variety of ways of exercising caterpillar control, which will help to slow these greedy individuals down and prevent them from attacking your prize plants and trees. The best way to do this is in an environmentally friendly manner, so that no nasty chemicals are introduced unnecessarily into the garden.
Pesticides should only ever be used as a last resort, and great care should always be taken when using them: Always read the label instructions properly, heed any warnings, and wear suitable protective clothing, gloves and safety glasses at all times.
First, you can try picking the caterpillars off the area, but obviously this can be tricky due to their stinging hairs. The best way to perform the task, therefore, is to use a pair of protective gloves. Another way of removing these pests from your garden is to introduce and encourage a host of predatory animals, such as lizards, frogs, wasps and birds. Although some of these predators may not touch a poisonous caterpillar, others will, and some may even eat the eggs before they get chance to hatch.
Finally, practicing good organic gardening methods, such as exercising crop rotation and not planting your vegetables in rows, will help to ensure that all your plants are strong and healthy and able to fight off unwanted caterpillars.
02 May 2014, 18:57
I spend hours everyday for the month of April killing these worms and
washing the cocoons off the house and trees using pinesol, flea
shampoo....I haven't had such a bad infestatation because I've been
persistent. The cocoon hairs embed in your skin and when you get enough of
them it feels like you're getting sunburned and if you get too many you get
cellulitus and have to go to the doctor like I did once. You have to get
a magnifying glass and it'll look like little black sticks embedded in your
skin and you can either get tape or have to use a sterile needle to get
14 May 2014, 23:16
I kept and pet exactly 38 of these a couple years back. They never gave me
04 Aug 2014, 18:58
Just found 2 of these buggers in my backyard here in southern nj. One was
an all white baby, the other was a full grown adult with the black tufts of
hair. Weird to look at. Something told me not to touch it. Glad I googled
first. We have a large pin oak tree. That must be their home.
05 Aug 2014, 08:20
Found a couple on my pool. Thought nothing of it until I read the article.
Will be sure not to touch. :-( I am in Kemptville, Ontario.
05 Aug 2014, 14:48
I live in Ithaca, NY and these just appeared over the weekend. I have
about 15-20 of them on my house that moved there from a small pin oak tree.
Didn't touch them, thankfully. Will be sure not to now.
10 Aug 2014, 09:35
one of these just dropped out of a nearby (maple, I think) tree onto my
deck. my sister and I decided to look it up and take a picture. This may be
a young one because it doesn't have black down the back, however it does
have the black hair-like structures. Annapolis MD
16 Aug 2014, 21:33
My kids love nature and regularly collect bugs in jars. My son came to the
backdoor today with five of these caterpillars in his little fists that he
found in the black walnut tree. I knew they were tusdock moths, but not the
species, and did not know about how they cause a skin reaction like
stinging nettles. Just was I was looking up info on how to take care of his
new pets and identify them, that is when the reaction started.Clear tape,
warm soak in water helped, but calamine loation worked best. Reaction
disappeared in an hour.
17 Aug 2014, 13:08
I own land out near Oneita county in NY abd found one on my foot. I went in
and washed it with dish soap and dried it. So far there wasnt any problems.
Then I sat down and someone yelled that there was one behind me. I'm
paranoid now, thinking that they're all over me.
25 Aug 2014, 18:02
One just got me in Groton, Ct.
I would rather be stung by a wasp!!!!
05 Sep 2014, 15:17
I just found one of these today on our picnic table. It was so interesting
looking that I scooped it up in a cup and went inside to look it up. So
glad now that I didn't pick it up. I'm going to warn people about these.
09 Sep 2014, 09:05
Discovered one in the front yard this morning. So cute but knew better then
to touch it once I saw the Lil black spines sticking up. Definite give
away that it had a serious defense mechanism going on. I totally see how
kids would want to touch them though. Very fascinating to watch though!!!
I am in Upper Sullivan County NY near Roscoe.
09 Sep 2014, 09:11
I should have mentioned in my previous post that the one I saw was a full
grown adult. The babies apparently don't have the big black spines near
the head and rear.
12 Sep 2014, 14:57
Had one of these land on my neck 5 days ago and I still have the rash! Most
painful sting I've ever experienced, I've had a rash that started on my
neck and has moved all over my body. My husband has killed over 60 of them
on our deck! I would love to know how to get rid of these things? I would
advise everyone to be aware of these horrible creatures!
26 Sep 2014, 19:39
Sandy Hook Connecticut my 4 year old was playing with one, he didn't get a
rash. I knew it was poisonous just by it being so odd looking!
29 Sep 2014, 21:55
Anyone had cold type symptoms associated with this caterpillars rash? My 3
year old came in contact with a dead one and got a rash , now she is
complaining of stuffy and runny nose. Poor thing. Just had an issue with a
weed rash a few days ago. Must be sensitive skin. Will be going to the Dr
29 Sep 2014, 23:35
I'm here in Eastern Ohio - felt something prickly in my shoe while mowing
grass this past weekend - thought it was some dry straw/weeds sticking me.
When I took my shoe off about an hour later to see what was prickly, one of
these caterpillers was squished on top of my sock. :( I didn't think much
about it until ... several hours later when I developed a very itchy Ivy
type rash over the top of my foot/toes. Sure hoping the rash/itching
subsides soon. I've sure learned a lot about caterpillers over the last
Good article - thanks so much for the info.
30 Sep 2014, 12:58
My goodness. Out of curiosity I decided to Google these white caterpillars.
Last Thursday I was outside under a tree. Felt something crawling on me.
Knocked it off and it was one of those. It feel on my shirt. Knocked it off
again. Friday night after my shower I began to itch. Looked at my arm and
thought I was brutally attacked my mosquitoes. Then noticed the small bumps
down my arm and around my shoulder where it was crawling. Later that night,
I noticed bumps on my stomach. I thought the pattern was so odd. Did not
know those things caused this until NOW. I have been using alcohol for the
itching. No pain tho. The bumps are almost gone. I hope I don't encounter
30 Sep 2014, 13:01
I forgot to add that all day Friday I had a terrible headache. Not sure if
it was related to that but I did have one all day. Come to think of it, I
30 Sep 2014, 21:29
Found two of these in my yard this week. I live in New England.
30 Sep 2014, 23:43
Every symptom/ reaction that has been listed above, I am experiencing!!!
03 Oct 2014, 22:12
My 12 month old put one in his mouth today. Luckily we got most of the
critter out before he swallowed it. Poor thing couldn't eat for hours
because his mouth hurt so badly. Finally was able to eat yogurt, the cool
texture seemed to help.
04 Oct 2014, 09:28
Our back deck had these little cute creatures all over. I had no idea they
were poisonous. I had noticed a rash on my child's leg. Took him to the ER
because he was so uncomfortable. They said its a bunch of bug bites. Was'nt
satisfied with the answer, so I took him to his doctor. He wasn't in, so we
saw a PA. She said scabies possibly, or eczema. Which he does get but only
around January. I took him back to the 2 days later. The rash had got
infected from scratching so bad. This doctor told me he had impetigo. Still
getting worse, I took him back to the ER, My grandson was then put on
steroids and an ointment. And was asked to see a specialist the following
day. The dermatologist, says "Oh its eczema". I told him it has never
looked like this. I have raised 4 kids all with eczema. He said it is
eczema for sure. Then last night on facebook I saw a post about these furry
bugs, googles it. The rash was identical to the pictures on line. During my
trips to the ER, multiple doctors saw him, and most said they had no idea
what it was. Lost faith in doctors.
13 Oct 2014, 17:03
This is the first year I've seen them in southwest lower MI - lots of them!
Pretty but now I know to avoid contact.
19 Jul 2015, 10:17
We were walking the dog and saw one in the mud. Didn't want to touch it but
it crawled on my shoe. I walked home with it and took a picture of it.
Looked it up and was glad I didn't touch it.
22 Jul 2015, 17:12
Saw this in the pool today, it was dead but I saw another near the front
door. I looked them up and when I was assured it was poisonous we moved it
and I now know to be careful around these guys!
24 Jul 2015, 20:41
First year we have seen them in Southwest Michigan. Glad I kept my puppy
away from them.
31 Jul 2015, 17:50
I have one right now. Saved it from drowning earlier. I have been handling
it all day and haven't had any itching or rash. I have also been touching
the black things.... Weird