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Fuzzy Wuzzy was a caterpillar?

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    Hickory tussock moth caterpillar. JEANNIE CARL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Hickory tussock moth caterpillar. JEANNIE CARL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published October 11. 2018 12:23PM

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar is a striking looking creature completely covered in hairlike tufts.

Most are white, but there are black tufts along the middle of the back, four long, black hairlike projections called “pencils,” (two in front, two in back) and its face is black.

If you see the hickory tussock moth caterpillar, it’s wise not to touch it!

The tiny setae or “hairs” that form the tufts are barbed and can become embedded into the skin. These can cause serious medical problems if transferred to eyes.

There were stories circulating that these caterpillars are venomous or poisonous. The more proper term is allergenic. The pencils are connected to glands that will release this chemical if the caterpillar is touched.

Most people who handle these creatures will experience an itchy rash. Washing the affected area with soap and water and applying a little calamine lotion is all that needs to be done in most cases.

However, some people are very sensitive to this chemical and can have allergic reactions to it — in addition to the itchy rash, some could experience an allergy or asthma attack.

I try not to get “preachy” when talking about nature, but venom and poison are very different from one another. Poisons are activated when touched (poison ivy or poison dart frogs) or consumed (poisonous mushrooms and berries) while venoms are activated once injected through stingers or fangs (rattlesnakes, spiders, wasps and bees or scorpions).

Most people are aware of the problems in various habitats due to invasive species such species as the Asian long-horned beetle, the emerald ash borer and the spotted lanternfly, but this is not one we must worry about because this species is native and belongs here.

This moth is widely spread across the eastern half of the U.S. The other part of the circulating stories was that these are invasive caterpillars. This is just not the case.

Male and female hickory tussocks mate every year in late spring and the female lays anywhere between 50 and 200 eggs. This caterpillar feeds on the leaves of nut-bearing trees. It prefers nut-bearing trees such as willow, ash, aspen, apple, oak and even raspberry plants.

Of the leaves it dines on, it does not tend to cause lasting damage to the trees themselves. These animals are “skeletonizers,” which means that they eat the green area in-between leaf veins.

I always have my camera with me when I am wandering around and happened to spot this caterpillar.

And I modeled what I tell people … I did not touch it.

Jeannie Carl is a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center on Lentz Trail in Summit Hill. Call 570-645-8597 for information.

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