As you may know, it's urushiol in poison ivy that causes a skin
reaction in those who are sensitive to the resin. Interestingly, it
is the host plant that equips the caterpillar with chemical
defenses. Mostly white, the caterpillar has a black stripe running
the length of its body coming to a pencil-like point in 4 areas
where the toxin is dispensed. Therefore, if you do decide to
brave-it and pick one up, as long as you don't touch the black
stripe, you could potentially avoid the misfortune of a red,
blistery rash. In our opinion, these critters should be admired
from a distance… no picking up rash-inducing caterpillars for us.
But, don't let us stop you if you're a daredevil fond of activities
with similar consequences such as running with scissors, rolling
around in poison ivy, etc. (we're kidding… seriously, don't do
Found mainly in North America, the hickory tussock moth
caterpillar is seen between July and October, while the adult moth
flies between May and June. These little critters are so named as
their favorite food is the hickory tree. Although, pecan, walnut,
ash, elm, oak, or willow trees will do in a pinch!
Unlike most caterpillars, these "wooly worms" come equipped with
a sound-producing organ capable of vocalizing in an effort to find
a mate. No Tinder for these guys! They also use their vocal
abilities to defend against predators. Apparently, they taste awful
(unlike the delightful lemon ant- you ate these as a kid too,
didn't you?) and project sound to alert bats just who they are, and
to tell them they will be sorry if they attempt to snatch them up
for a snack!
While poison ivy plants (and poison oak!) and the hickory
tussock moth caterpillar share similar rash-y outcomes when
touched, we must note that Tecnu® products have not been
tested for use on a hickory tussock moth caterpillar rash.