Tussock Caterpillars

Photo of a skin rash on a child's abdomen resulting from the hairs of a tussock caterpillar
Skin rash resulting from the hairs of a tussock caterpillar

Tussock caterpillars (Erebidae family / previously Lymantriidae) were very abundant in Maine in 2011 and they were ‘itching’ for attention! One reason for all the attention they receive (during late summer and early fall) is that, unfortunately, the hairs on these caterpillars can cause a very itchy rash. The prickly hairs are a defense mechanism (they are not poisonous or venomous). It is important to note that children are more susceptible to the rash than are adults, and children are also much more likely to be playing with them and handling these showy critters (natural curiosity/fascination/playing outdoors). The rash from some of the members of this group tends to be short-lived, and clears up on its own after two or three hours. For other species, however, such as with the Hickory Tussock (see below), the rash can be much more severe and long-lasting, and a doctor’s visit might be warranted to speed one’s recovery and ease the symptoms / discomfort.  The Browntail moth is also a member of the same family to which tussock caterpillars belong (Erebidae family).

Some examples of Tussock Caterpillars found in Maine (The hairs on many members of this group may cause an itchy rash, especially for children):

Additional Information and Photos: