Friday, October 9, 2009

An Albino Wooly Bear?

Nancy M. sent in a picture of a wooly white caterpillar that was eating her oak trees. Alex was able to identify it as a hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae). Those long hairs are defense mechanisms that can cause stinging rashes.

From the OSU fact sheet:

Caterpillars or larvae of certain moths possess stinging hairs. These sharp hairs or spines are either hollow, connected to poison glands (venom flows on contact), or similar to glass fibers (hairs break off in skin easily) sometimes causing pain like a needle prick. Depending on the individual, reaction to the sting ranges from mild, with local reddening, swelling, burning and itching to severe pain. Hypersensitive persons may experience severe swelling, nausea and generalized systemic reactions, occasionally requiring hospital treatment. In severe cases, entrance of hairs into the eye can cause blindness.

This caterpillar is basically white with a black head and when fully grown is about 1-1/2 inches long. Symptoms are usually a skin rash (poison ivy-like) and sometimes severe itching followed by a painful burning sensation.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

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