Hoaxes & Rumors

Are New Black and White Caterpillars Dangerous to Children?

Are New Black and White Caterpillars Dangerous to Children?

Are poisonous black and white caterpillars “new to the area” causing allergic reactions to children to who touch them?

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The rumor is partially true.

Let’s first take a look at this rumor which has been circulating since mid-2011, and again in 2013:

Little white and black caterpillars all over are POISONOUS. They are apparently new to the area….. doctors say there has been numerous kids having reactions to them. the rash spreads fast. the caterpillars have long white hairs that embed in skin and send poison through out the body. DO NOT TOUCH and DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS TOUCH!!! they look cute and fuzzy and THEY ARE NOT! Please repost to everyone you know with little kids!!

An oak processionary moth in its caterpillar stage.

An oak processionary moth in its caterpillar stage.

The caterpillar shown in the internet warning is the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. The hairs of this caterpillar can cause allergic reaction in some people who come in contact with them. Touching the attractive bug can cause severe itching, burning sensations, and a rash that may last for several days.


The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee suggests treating contact with the caterpillar in the following manner:

Cleaning the sting with soap and water, dabbing on some ammonia or calamine lotion, and topping it off with some ice should handle the problem. More sensitive souls can experience swelling and nausea and may have to see a doctor.

“New to Area”

According to ButterfliesandMoths.com, the hickory tussock can be found from “Nova Scotia to North Carolina mountains, west to Ontario, Wisconsin, and Texas. Absent from much of midwestern part of range.” Their map of sightings of the caterpillar shows it mostly in the Eastern U.S. and southern Ontario. There is no evidence that this caterpillar has suddenly spread to a new area as the internet warning claims.

Oak processionary moths
Although the hickory tussock is not “new to the area,” the Daily Mail reported the “invasion” of a caterpillar in Britain in 2012 which could be lethal to asthmatics. The oak processionary moths do not, however, match the description of the internet warning regarding black and white caterpillars. It’s possible that 2012 warning prompted a resurgence of the warning regarding the hickory tussock.

Bottom Line

The “black and white caterpillars” featured in the internet warning can cause allergic reaction, but they are not known to have migrated to any “new” areas.


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