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.
03 Aug 2011, 09:39
I live in Western NY, near Lake Ontario and we have them here. I've seen
them for the last couple years.
05 Aug 2011, 11:25
I found some on our high bush Blueberry plant this morning. Glad I didn't
touch them. This is Central Maine.
05 Aug 2011, 12:59
I have just found these bugges crawling on the walls of my house in
Northern New York! I am happy that I was interested enough to find out what
they are before i touched them!
05 Aug 2011, 13:00
10 Aug 2011, 00:46
Thanks for posting this excellent info. I'm using it for a reference on
Facebook in response to a family posting in upstate NY, where they are
apparently making their debut. :(
12 Aug 2011, 08:42
I am in central Mississippi but I still see these, or something that looks
very much like them, from time to time here in the fall. Never in great
numbers, but nevertheless.
12 Aug 2011, 14:11
We have these in our back yard, a lot of eggs on our tree leaves.!
12 Aug 2011, 15:05
We live in Central Minnesota and have a ton of the eggs on our tree
They look nasty..
15 Aug 2011, 21:36
Just found a few of these in Vermont this weekend. More infested with the
mourning cloak caterpillars that have devoured nearly all the foliage on a
young apple tree.
16 Aug 2011, 10:21
The prickly hairs are easily removed by using the sticky side of Scotch
tape, repeated pressing the sticky side to the affected skin and pulling it
loose. A good wash with soap and water will complete the removal.
17 Aug 2011, 11:54
I was house sitting this past weekend in Chittenden, Vermont and saw some.
They looked neat and reminded me of a wolly bear caterpillar lol
20 Aug 2011, 18:55
We live in south NY. My daughter played with one at camp and has now a very
itchy rash on the inside of her arm. I thought it was poison ivy at first.
24 Aug 2011, 08:23
I was weedwacking and got "stung" by something. Later I developed a large,
poison ivy type rash -- blisters, burning, itching. It lasted a week.
These white caterpillars are everywhere at my house so I am sure they are
24 Aug 2011, 09:06
so i found one at work and its been hanging out.. i held it picked it up it
never stung me should i be concerned? if it hasnt stung me yet it probally
Ask the Exterminator
24 Aug 2011, 12:17
You are dealing with an insect. It's not as if the caterpillar trusts you
and allows you to handle it. It's defensive actions are automatic. Keep
touching it and eventually you will be stung.
24 Aug 2011, 16:37
We have them in Central (Upstate) NY now.
01 Sep 2011, 23:07
They are in South east Ohio West Virginia and Pennsylvania area as well.
03 Sep 2011, 21:09
I think this is what was starting to make a cocoon in my tee shirt at the
State Fair in Columbus during the day (we were a Civil War enenampment and
slelpt there at night). I felt a burning sensation and looked down, and
there was this white catipillar with a black line down its back with what
looked like white "silk" all around it on the outside of my t-shirt as I
put it on. Wish I'd killed the thing now instead of giving it a good toss
toward the trees! The rash didn't go away for a week and the silk didn't
come out until I machine washed the shirt, since just trying to hand wash
still left it on and still had enough poison in it so it still made me more
itchy if I tried to wear it. As it was our group's "official" t-shirt, it
put me in a difficult position not to wear it at night!
08 Sep 2011, 11:55
I live in south central North Carolina and we always called these
catapillars pac-sadles. we had them on our scuppernong vines since I was a
little kid and I am 65 yrs. old now, they were always on the back of the
leaves and hurt like crazy and caused a small rash but never anything
22 Sep 2011, 17:27
my daughter was just stung by one of these little buggers....itchy, rashy,
swollen. we are in southern ontario. we know now to stay away from these
cute fuzzy little things :)
22 Sep 2011, 20:16
My son has a rash all over his belly from a kid at school throwing it down
his shirt! They are little red bumps and he says is very itchy.... Nasty
little things. Put Benadryl cream on the area and he says it feels much
23 Sep 2011, 10:39
Got them in Rome NY too. Found two in the last two days in my yard.
28 Sep 2011, 12:38
My little guy has been playing with these the last few days and he has a
rash all over his neck area. Very little red bumps.. Very itchy. Glad I
found this article! This is in Derby, VT.
01 Oct 2011, 14:29
my daughter got stung by one last night and complained about it throughout
the night. Did the baking soda, calamine lotion, ice, poison ivy itch
relief, of course thoroughly washed the area. woke up today with hives on
legs, belly and neck (although was stung on hands) Pediatrician said it is
not uncommon to get hives from caterpillar sting. Some people are more
sensitive I guess. So now she has to take benedril till the hives go away,
all from a cute little caterpillar!!
04 Oct 2011, 12:34
We found a BUNCH of these on our "wild geraniums" here in south central
ohio...however, I don't see the black hairs sticking out at front or
back??? Is there another caterpillar that could be that similar?
04 Oct 2011, 16:23
Our 20 month old granddaughter was playing with one of these today. (it
didn't have the two protruding long black hairs) Just minutes later, her
hands turned red and she was itching. She had touched her head and got a
rash there also! Please warn everyone you know about this.
We are in the central east part of OH.
29 May 2012, 16:00
I have seen several over the past year in Oneonta, NY. Got rid of the tent
caterpillars and now have these little boogers.
21 Jul 2012, 12:22
We have these caterpillars in our Walnut tree...they appeared last year and
we cannot get rid of them. Too many to "pick" off....any pestisides that I
can use???? If so, how????
Thanks for any help! We live in Southern Ontario, Canaaa.
Ask the Exterminator
21 Jul 2012, 15:42
Treating trees for pests can be tricky business. Choose the wrong pesticide
and you could kill your valuable tree. I suggest calling in a tree expert
for your problem. It's well worth it.
18 Sep 2012, 13:12
I am in my 40's. I thought it was pretty and held it for quite a bit. No
rash, no problems for me. Barre, Vermont
18 Sep 2012, 16:18
I brushed one off the back of my neck and soon after a burning rash
appeared, and lasted for several hours. Lately I have been cutting firewood
and in handling it got another area affected on my arm and right through
shirt sleeve.Thought it was poison ivy until I saw the caterpillars on the
27 Sep 2012, 13:33
Just brushed off one from my neck. Real bad rash developed almost
instantly, hope it subsides soon, really itchy !
10 Oct 2012, 22:15
we were camping in CT this past weekend and my son and daughter pet this
kind and both have a rash two days later! i hope it doesnt get bad! we
actually took it home in a container and my son put it in a big tank with
leaves, rocks, etc. it has now made a cocoon. i think i should put it
outside!!!! but i wont touch anything with my bare hands!