The caterpillars emerge throughout the spring from the crown of a plant and begin to eat the leaf foliage from a number of plants, shrubs and tree species. In severe cases it can cause a great amount of defoliation before moving onto other plants to continue feeding. Most plants will not be totally lost and will recover to flourish by the end of July.
The caterpillars are between 7mm and 38mm in length and are dark brown in colour with a distinct white broken line down each side. The whole body is covered in tufts of brown hairs with two distinct orange/red dots on the back towards the tail end of the caterpillar.
The caterpillars carry up to two million spikes and barbed hairs that can penetrate the skin causing an irritation and skin rash. (NB) For asthmatics and hay fever sufferers, it is important to note that this may cause further severity with breathing difficulties.
You are strongly advised to avoid touching them, especially if you:
Avoidance is far better than cure and following the previous recommendations will help ensure that you are not affected.
If you are unfortunate enough to be affected, you can generally expect a rash together with irritation similar to a severe nettle rash. Normally this will give a few hours of localised discomfort, and a warm bath along with the application of calamine lotion or antihistamine creams may ease the itching.
If any other symptoms are experienced or the irritation persists, medical advice should be sought without delay.
If you have a reaction to the caterpillars, you may experience a reaction from a mild reaction with local reddening, swelling and itching (rash), to a rather severe reaction depending on the susceptibility of the individual, the tenderness of the skin and the place of contact. You may even require medical care for unusually sensitive persons.
Hypersensitive persons may experience symptoms and/or allergic reactions, e.g. severe swelling, nausea, difficulty in breathing and generalised systemic reaction. If so you are recommended to immediately seek medical advice.