Never touch these caterpillars with your bare hands. They could cause rashes and breathing problems.

Gypsy moth caterpillars are among America's most destructive, non-native invasive insect pests, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And they are everywhere.

The Northeast usually sees an outbreak of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars every six to eight years. In New York, there tends to be an outbreak every 10-15 years. However, experts say this year is one of the worst outbreaks in recent history.

The tiny hairs on the caterpillar can cause painful and itchy rashes. Sensitive people may form respiratory problems from the caterpillar shedding its skin and hair.

If you come into contact with a Gypsy Moth Caterpillar, pediatrician Stacey Maslow advises trying to: remove the hairs as best you can and treat with pain relievers as needed. "If any of the more serious side effects start to occur, like shortness of breath, contact your doctor.”

The destructive caterpillar is also a serious threat to thousands of acres of trees. One gypsy moth caterpillar can eat up to one square foot of leaves a day, ruining backyard trees and forests.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is tracking elevated populations of gypsy moths that are causing noticeable leaf damage across New York State. Gypsy moth populations are especially high in Clinton, Warren, Saratoga, Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca, Yates, and Orleans counties.

The good news is, the caterpillars have started to disappear as they become moths.

Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Gypsy Moth Caterpillars aren't the only ones to cause rashes. A cute, white, fuzzy caterpillar that seems harmlesso is actually poisonous.

A 7 year-old Sauquoit boy came into contact with one. and brok out after one touched his face. "It was so scary how fast it swelled," said his mom Angela Denslow. "Thank God our camp neighbor was a nurse and had Benadryl. But the bumps last over a month!"

Photo Credit: Angela Denslow/TSM
Photo Credit: Angela Denslow/TSM

Depsite the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar being native to Canada, they have been spotted in New York and Pennsylvania in the past few years.

Paul Burrows, a doctor from Binghamton says these caterpillars love corn stalks, apple, ash, Oak and Willow trees. "If families picking apples and pumpkin farming, they are bound to be in their paths. Calamine lotion and witch hazel are good choices to treat the rash. It could be detrimental if it’s not washed well first with some good old soap and water. By no means should you touch it if you’re helping someone clean it because you can become irritated too."

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