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Tussock Moth Caterpillars

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Tussock moth caterpillars (Family 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 the Hickory Tussock (white one shown 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.

see also: Bangor Daily News story (August 30th, 2011)

Some examples of Tussock Moth Caterpillars found in Maine (the hairs on members of this group can cause an itchy rash):

Note: The caterpillar of the brown-tail moth is also a member of the Tussock family. [brown-tail moth] (Maine Forest Service)


Image Description:

Image Description: Picture of two different tussock moth larvae

Image Description: A tussock moth caterpillar (one species of several that are found in the Tussock family)

Image Description: Picture of a tussock moth caterpillar

Image Description: a Tussock Moth Caterpillar on a leaf

Image Description: Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Larva) -- this one is perhaps a Pale Tussock Caterpillar

Image Description: a Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar or Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar

Image Description: a Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Larva -- early stage)

Image Description: a picture of a Hickory Tussock moth caterpillar

Image Description: a Brown-tail moth caterpillar

Image Description: Nest made by Brown-tail moth caterpillars


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Home and Garden IPM from Cooperative Extension
491 College Avenue
Orono, ME 04469-5741
Phone: 207.581.3880 or 1.800.287.0279 (in Maine)E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469