Thursday, February 18, 2016

Stand Back!

Sometimes it is okay to touch fuzzy things.

Common mullein leaves are soft and fuzzy

Sometimes it is not okay.

Hickory Tussock moth caterpillars look soft and fuzzy but are not!

The Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is covered with both long and short hairs.  Be careful of both.  The short hairs are barbed and will break off in your skin, causing your skin to itch.  The long hairs (sometimes called lashes) are hollow and connected to poison glands.  If you touch one of these, the hollow hairs will pierce your skin and introduce the poison into your body!  It quickly causes an itch burning sensation that is similar to sting of a nettle.  Some people can have severe reactions that may require a visit to their doctor.  The black and white color scheme is there to warm predators including humans to stay away.  This use of warning colors is known as aposematic coloration. 

If you accidentally (or intentionally) touch a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar,  you will quickly learn to associate aposematic coloration with danger or pain and you are less likely to make the same mistake again.

Stinging caterpillars!  Isn't nature cool?!

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