New Brunswick

Caterpillar warnings shouldn't scare, say experts

Warnings are circulating by email and on social networking sites saying the White Hickory Tussock — a caterpillar native to Canada and parts of the U.S. — is dangerous.

Warnings are circulating by email and on social networking sites saying the White Hickory Tussock — a caterpillar native to Canada and parts of the U.S. — is dangerous, but some experts say people shouldn't be concerned.

In Maine, the population of the fuzzy white caterpillar with black spikes has exploded this year, with more caterpillars crawling on trees and shrubs than has been seen in 15 years.

Charlene Donahue, a forest entomologist with the Maine Department of Conservation, said the caterpillars don't damage trees, and it's unlikely the toxin on their hairs and spikes will bother humans.

"There are people that can have a reaction to it, an allergic reaction to them so people do need to be cautious but this is something that's been part of our environment ever since we've been living here.  These are native insects and they've always been around.

Dr. Cristin Muecke, a public health officer in Fredericton, said she's received a few calls from people who developed an itchy, burning rash after picking them up.

"We would recommend that people not handle those caterpillars, if they're not aware that they're already tolerant to them," said Muecke.

Donahue said the caterpillars won't be around for much longer — they're already building cocoons under tree bark and in leaf litter.