Rise of the hairy caterpillars prompts bank holiday health warning

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Brown-tail moth caterpillar
The hairs of the brown-tail moth caterpillar can cause skin irritation or even breathing difficulties

PEOPLE out and about this bank holiday weekend have been warned to keep away from a caterpillar whose spiny hairs can cause breathing difficulties.

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There have been increased sightings of brown-tail moth caterpillars in the New Forest this year, the district council says.

The creatures have brown spiky hairs with a distinctive white line down each side and are 7-38mm long.

It is the hairs that can cause skin and eye irritation and breathing difficulties, particularly in children and people with conditions such as asthma.

An NFDC spokesperson said: “You should avoid handling or brushing past brown-tail moth caterpillars as they are likely to cause irritating skin rashes similar to a severe nettle rash, which will last for a few hours.

“In addition, because the caterpillars’ hairs can become airborne, some people may experience symptoms affecting their eyes and breathing, similar to hay fever. The hairs may also worsen symptoms of asthma for some sufferers.”

People who come into contact with the insects are advised to wash irritated skin with water and apply calamine lotion to ease the itching. If serious breathing difficulties occur, seek medical advice.

The caterpillars become active in the early spring, creating “tents” to shelter in hedges and bushes.

They begin to emerge from their tents in April and start to spread out into surrounding foliage. After spinning a cocoon, the adult moths emerge in July and August ready to mate.

NFDC takes measures to help reduce the number of the caterpillars on its land, such as along some coastal paths. If anyone finds an infestation on their land they should contact a pest control contractor.

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