Poison Ivy's Fuzzy Cousin



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 that!).

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.

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