This caterpillar is almost as cute as a Woolly Bear (Isabella tiger moth) with his fluffy white fur, a black dash down his back, and a little black face, but…
Don’t touch him!
This is a hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) and those long white hairs contain allergens that will make you sting and itch as if you’d touched stinging nettle.
The hairs are actually hollow spines, the perfect delivery system for chemicals that prevent him from being eaten. Even a clueless young animal will only mouth this caterpillar once. Inquisitive humans who’ve touched him will tell you the spines can stay in your skin and make you miserable for weeks.
And don’t touch his cocoon either. It’s covered with the same nasty hairs. Click here to see his cocoon.
Hickory tussock moth caterpillars are easy to find right now because they’re preparing to spin the cocoons where they’ll overwinter.
Here’s another view so you can memorize his appearance.
Follow this simple rule about caterpillars and you can’t go wrong: Look but don’t touch!
(photos by Kate St.John)
p.s. Read more about hickory tussock moths in this entertaining article by the Bug Lady at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.