Tussock Moth Caterpillars Make 'Abundant' Return to Florida as Experts Remind Locals Not to Touch Them

The insects have spiky hairs that can cause irritation to the skin

<p>Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty </p> A pale Tussock moth caterpillar

Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty

A pale Tussock moth caterpillar

Floridians are trying to readjust to some hairy new friends — but they won't be around for long.

The Tussock moth caterpillars, a type of insect which has spiky hairs that can cause irritation, are back in season as they have made an abundant return throughout the state, according to CBS affiliate WJAX and NBC affiliate WESH.

The outlets reported that the caterpillars have been seen falling out of trees, scattered among parked cars and crawling on homes, with their cocoons lining the eaves. "We came outside to the car and the tires of the car underneath these trees were just covered with these caterpillars,” Brevard County resident Kimberleigh Deignan told WESH.

While the insects, which come once a year, are seemingly everywhere, experts have warned local residents not to touch them. “They are going to have barbed hairs that can be stuck into the skin," University of Central Florida Insect Researcher Jamie Ling told WESH, explaining that "they can be irritating to the skin. It can be itchy, and it can cause some redness.”

Related: Massive Moth with 10-inch Wingspan Spotted in Washington State: 'A Gee-Whiz Type of Insect'

As the Florida Museum noted on its website, the Tussock moth caterpillar is "abundant" in North Central Florida and hatches in late February or early March, before maturing and having to "disperse cocoons" in April.

Per the museum, the cocoons, which can be found on "homes, park benches, and other outside articles" and are "hard to remove," can cause a "burning sensation" when touched.

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Lauren Diepenbrock, assistant professor of Entomology at the University of Florida, shared with WJAX that the insects can also "defoliate shrubs" after getting blown by wind and knocked off trees into "residential foliage."

As she explained, their abundance this season may be a result of consistent temperatures in the winter. “This year it’s been a longer cool period," Deipenbrock said. "So, it may have synchronized the young leaves on the oak tree, which could then also synchronize the hatching of these caterpillars."

Related: Girl, 5, Hospitalized After Bite From Poisonous Caterpillar That Can Make 'Bones Hurt'

While Deipenbrock said the caterpillars aren't a major risk to humans or gardens with no long term "venom issues," touching them is still going to feel like "getting stung."

“Luckily it does not last long. Actually, the reactions last a day or so. But you can take some tape and stick it to the area that touched the caterpillar, or you can run it under cold water," Ling told WESH, referring to the method of pulling the insect's tiny hairs out of one's skin.

As WJAX noted, April is the peak season for these insects. By mid-month, most Tussock moth caterpillars will be in cocoons. The insects are expected to emerge as moths near the end of April. 

To safely remove Tussock moth caterpillars, Deipenbrock recommended to the outlet that people use garden gloves to place the caterpillars in a soapy bucket of water. Additionally, the Florida Museum advised doing the same after sweeping them up in homes with a broom or taking them down from walls with tweezers.

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