Fuzzy caterpillars that leave painful, stinging rashes appear in Florida

White Marked Tussock Moth Fuzzy Caterpillars — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Satyashutter

Florida officials are warning of fuzzy caterpillars that leave stinging rashes when touched. The white-marked tussock moth caterpillar may have beautiful markings, but be careful! You’ll only want to look, not touch. 

“In the past, we have seen outbreaks where people get concerned naturally because all these children have a rash thinking it’s something contagious when it’s actually just related to those caterpillars,” Seminole County Health Department’s Kevin Baker said.

Children playing outdoors may encounter caterpillars this time of year around outdoor playground equipment and trees. 

Seminole County Schools shared the Department of Health’s precaution with concerned parents.

“Keep an eye out for them, like when they’re out at playgrounds, at the school playground, anytime they may be outdoors,” Michael Lawrence with Seminole County Schools said.

“Parents who notice these caterpillars on playground equipment should consider not allowing their children to play on the equipment. If the playground equipment is in a public space, parents can notify the organization or individual responsible for the equipment for the safe removal of the caterpillars. If the caterpillars are found at home in the yard, encourage children not to play with them and consider contacting a pest control company if there is an infestation.”

If you touch one by accident, their sharp barbs may stick to your skin. Those affected may need to use tape to place over the area, then rip it off with force. If some barbs remain, repeat.

“In order to stop the rash from occurring and stop the stinging, you have to remove the hairs from the caterpillar from your skin,” Lawrence said.

Other tips include not removing the caterpillar with your bare hands, using tape to pull any spines out, washing hands with soap and water, using ice or a cold compress to reduce the sting, and a baking soda paste to reduce the itch.

“Once they get into the skin they can cause an irritation and even an allergic reaction, that can cause a rash,” Baker said.

The cocoon can cause a rash as well. 

“Just don’t touch it, let it be,” Baker said.

A hands-off approach is best when encountering these critters.

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