The Art and Science of Butterflies at Berkshire Museum

The butterfly effect: how studying these pollinators broadens analytical and creative minds

Tiger Swallowtail by Howard HoopleMuch like bees, butterflies play an important role in our local ecosystem – and also in ecosystems globally. As pollinators, butterflies help to ensure that plants exchange genetic material, something that we depend on in order to enjoy many of our favorite foods! However, changes in the way that humans live and the ways in which we interact with our surroundings have caused butterfly populations to decline (especially the iconic monarch). Learning about butterflies and their role in our ecosystem is essential to understanding and appreciating our surroundings; luckily, opportunities for learning about these beautiful Lepidoptera abound during the next few months! Find out about upcoming events & resources…

Don’t Pet the Fuzzy Caterpillars: Hickory Tussock Moth

Hickory Tussock Moth

Hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae)Have your kids been handling these white and black fuzzy caterpillars that are so abundant this summer (Hickory Tussock Moth)? Some families are reporting skin rashes after handling these little guys (while others have had no reactions at all). We haven’t seen any health alerts issued in MA, but they have been issued in other regions, stating that handling these little guys can produce a rash that is “often misdiagnosed as: chickenpox, scabies, MRSA, bug bites, scarlet fever and nonspecific viral rash.”  Here’s what our readers had to say:

  • John L. Grossman writes, “Handled without any issues.”
  • Alison Recordss writes, “Those caterpillars are everywhere at our house!! Thanks for posting this, luckily my SIL gave me the heads up.”
  • Diane Kanzler writes, “Most tussock moth species have stinging hairs. We just don’t touch them, and let them go on their merry way.”
  • Kim Montague writes, “Have a lot in our yard. No rashes yet.”
  • Dawn Hansen Kempf writes, “Great. My 4 year old has made one her “pet” in the garage. I guess this pet is going to mysteriously disappear…”
  • Heidi Kelly writes, “They actually have little hairs that embed in skin. After a few minutes of handling them, it’ll start to sting where the caterpillar was. Get tape and wrap it around sticky side out and put against skin to try and get the hairs out. It’s not a traditional rash, but a reaction to the little hairs… very much akin to fiberglass splinters. Tweezers won’t work, too small, but the sticky tape will be helpful in removing them. Also, cold water helps to minimize the sting. We have first hand knowledge. They’re new around us. There is also a black version. The spiny hairs that stick out are the sign that the hairs will embed in the skin.”
  • Laura Davis Taylor writes, “Austin came in contact with one of a different color last year and had a bad rash. He was one itchy and unhappy camper for a day or two. Keep your kids away from “all FUZZY caterpillars.”
  • Mimi writes, “Yes. They are poisonous according to the nurse at the Huntington Health Center. My daughter had a very bad reaction two summers ago and I had one land on me this week. Yes, rash red bumps burning itching feeling.”
  • Luiz Felipe Perrone writes, “Rule of thumb for a Brazilian child: NEVER touch a caterpillar. I’ve always been shocked that here kids play with them… Now, my wife knows I’m not paranoid delusional (just paranoid, maybe).”
  • Tom Pietrosanti writes, “When I was younger, my best friend’s little sister had picked one up and I remember her hand swelled up and I think they had to take her to the hospital. So definitely a good idea not to play with them!”

Have you or your kids experienced any reactions to handling these caterpillars?

[Photo credit: (ccl) Peppergrass]

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