Sightings of Brown-tail moth caterpillars at Ventnor have been reported, prompting the Isle of Wight Council to issue a warning.
The council is warning against handling the creatures, whose hairs can break off as barbs, potentially causing skin irritation and breathing difficulties.
Lee Matthews, recreation and public spaces manager at Isle of Wight Council, has said:
“Once again this year, with the annual influx of the brown-tail moth caterpillar, I would remind the public to avoid handling them, as they can cause skin and eye irritation, especially in children.
“We are working closely with Ventnor Town council and local businesses to manage this year’s influx but if you are unlucky enough to have handled the caterpillars, you may experience a rash together with irritation similar to a severe nettle rash. As hairs can become airborne some people may experience symptoms affecting their eyes and breathing similar to hay fever symptoms.”
Normally this will give a few hours of localised discomfort. Washing the affected area with water and the application of calamine lotion on the skin may ease the itching. The hairs may also worsen symptoms of asthma for some people.
You should seek medical advice from your pharmacist or GP if symptoms do not settle down within a few hours.
The caterpillars become active in the spring. During March, caterpillars can be found in their winter tents. By April the caterpillars begin to emerge en masse from their tents and start to feed.
They gradually move further away from their winter tents during May until they become solitary. After spinning a cocoon and pupating, the adult moths emerge in July/August, ready to mate. Following the females laying eggs near the tip of shrub branches, they spin a tent at the end of the shoots in readiness for winter.
• Although the caterpillars prefer hawthorn and blackberry, they will eat leaves from any type of bush.
• The creatures are between 7mm and 38mm in length (depending on age), dark brown in colour with a distinctive white line down each side; with the whole body covered in tufts of brown hairs and two distinct orange/red dots are noticeable on the caterpillars back towards the tail.
• The insects have spiked and barbed hairs, which can penetrate skin, causing an irritant reaction.