Warning over toxic caterpillars across Sussex which can cause a painful rash

Caterpillar SUS-190521-072057001
Caterpillar SUS-190521-072057001

People are being warned not to go near a caterpillar which can cause a painful skin rash and other potential health problems.

May and June are the months when the brown tail moth caterpillar is most active, feeding on plants and leaves.

The caterpillars have stinging hairs and if they come into contact with people can cause a painful rash, they can also cause breathing problems for those suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions.

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The caterpillars are wide-spread as they feed on a variety of plants and trees, including bramble, hawthorn, blackthorn, apple and pear.

There has already been an outbreak of poisonous caterpillars in a public garden in Hastings, where the council have acted by erecting signs, warning of the dangers.

The caterpillars and cocoons of the brown tail should not be handled or disturbed. They have hairs that can cause skin reactions, sometimes requiring medical treatment. Strong winds and any disturbance may cause hairs to become airborne.

The caterpillars are active between May and June, feeding on foliage. They then spin a cocoon and pupate. Adult moths emerge in July/August and mate.

These caterpillars are between 7mm and 38mm in length, dark brown in colour with a distinctive white line down each side. The whole body is covered in tufts of brown hairs and two distinct orange/red dots are noticeable on the caterpillars back towards the tail.

For asthmatics and hay fever sufferers, it is important that the hairs are not inhaled as these may cause breathing difficulties.

If you are affected, the rash will be similar to severe nettle rash. The discomfort should subside after a few hours. A warm bath, with the application of calamine lotion or antihistamine cream may ease the itching.

If any other symptoms are experienced or the irritation persists, medical advice should be sought without delay.

Picture by Roberts Photographic.

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