Officials: black and white caterpillars are not poisonous, but can be allergenic

By WKTV News

ORISKANY, N.Y. (WKTV) - Cornell Cooperative Extension says a rumor has been crawling around the internet, much like the multi-legged critter it pertains to.

In recent days, numerous people have seen writings similar to this in their e-mails and Facebook pages:

"Little white and black caterpillars all over CNY 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!!"

However, according to officials at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Oriskany, the little critters, known as the White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar, are not actually poisonous.

A Holland Patent resident was concerned when their sons and neighbor's daughters were catching the caterpillars for the past couple of days, allowing the caterpillars to crawl up the children's arms. The resident became concerned when her neighbor's daughter developed a rash on the inside of her hand and fingers.

Cornell Cooperative Extension officials pointed to information provided by University of Maine , which says that while the caterpillars are not poisonous, their hairs are very allergenic to some people, resulting in an itchy rash.

The caterpillars, identified by their black and white furry exterior prefer hickories, walnuts, and related plants for food, but accept most any shrub or tree.

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