Mass of venomous caterpillars found in Windsor yard

A woman living just south of Windsor has found a cluster of venomous caterpillars hanging on an apple tree in her backyard.

Caterpillars are hickory tussock moths, which can cause irritation if touched

Christine ​Margaritis says she seen a lot of odd animals pass through her yard, but never these type of caterpillars. She says she wants to know why they're nesting there. (CBC)

A woman living just south of Windsor has found a cluster of venomous caterpillars hanging on an apple tree in her backyard. 

"They're disgusting," said Christine ​Margaritis as she looks at the cluster of caterpillars hanging from a tree. "I almost bumped into them." 

"Every time I think of it I think of the movie Indiana Jones," she explains. "Remember Indiana Jones where they went into the cave and all those bugs went in the girl's hair?" 

It turns out the caterpillars are hickory tussock moth larvae, which are venomous but not deadly. They can, however, cause skin irritation if touched. 

The caterpillar can leave behind venom that can cause a rash similar to that caused by nettles or poison ivy. Symptoms can range from slight reddening of the skin to a burning sensation with swelling and pain. Some people may experience an allergic reaction which could include nausea.

Margaritis said she came to look at the apple tree, and as she tried to pick one of the fruit she almost bumped into the insects — a ball of about 30 caterpillars.

She said she jumped back, but returned to take a picture because she's never seen something like this before, especially on an apple tree. 

"I've seen some, I guess tree worms, on all the other big trees in this area but I've never experienced this before," said Margaritis. "I thought, this is just so gross."

Margaritis is mainly curious to find out why the caterpillars are here, and if it has something to do with the climate in Windsor. She says she doesn't see many butterflies or moths in the area anymore. 

She's not that shocked to see the insects though, she said she's seen a lot of strange animals in the area. 

"I've had a rat snake, I've had a deer, fox, coyotes, possum, muskrats, gophers, haven't had any bears yet, but you never know." 

Last year, a southern Ontario health unit and naturalists alike were warning parents to keep kids away from the venomous caterpillar, prevalent this time of year.

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar is most common from July to September. They then grow into an orange-coloured moth in the summer. But, beware the cocoons as well, because the caterpillar hairs are used in the shell to discourage predators.

It usually feeds on the leaves of hickory, walnut, ash, elm and oak trees in preparation for over-wintering in its cocoon.