Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Cute Creepy Crawlers

Hickory Tussock caterpillars , Lophocampa caryae, Garden Dilemmas Ask Mary Stone, Garden Tips

Hello Fellow Readers,

Seems we’re crowded with cute creepy crawlers, caterpillars that is. I have an affinity for the woollybear caterpillars because of the folklore about winter predictions; the wider the brown middle band, the milder the winter, so it is said. In fact I love photographing cute creepy crawlers; okay, maybe I’m weird.

This year I’ve noticed hordes of white fuzzy caterpillars with black tufts along the back, black spots down the sides, and a black head. They’re all over the place. There’s even some on the house and I’m starting to feel rather ‘stink buggish’ about them. In the past I caught and released stink bugs that found their way inside until I learned how invasive they are. So now, ahem, I don’t. I still hate to kill things as does Debbie of Hackettstown who asked about the white fuzzy spiked creepy crawlers. ‘What are they, why so many, and should I be worried?’

They’re Hickory Tussock caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) that feed largely on hickory trees, hence their name, and on beech and oak trees. Although the Hickory Tussock caterpillar can defoliate trees, they typically don’t cause long-term damage. The caterpillars wander this time of year looking for places to make cocoons. Then will emerge next July into moths often called Hickory Tiger moths.

As cute and tempting to touch as they are, it turns out this fuzzy wuzzy can be a problem. They have two, long, sharp, black hairs protruding near their front and rear connected to poison glands which excrete on contact. They can cause an allergic reaction for some people in the form of a rash much like poison ivy. Others aren’t allergic at all. Some may experience more severe symptoms that could include swelling and nausea and should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible. Even when cleaning up leaf litter, caterpillar hairs may be left behind so best to wear gloves and long sleeves.

Turns out the Hickory Tussock caterpillar is from the same family as the celebrated black-and-rust, weather-predicting woollybear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia Isabella). However woollybear’a fuzzy wuzzy hairs are harmless. Just goes to show there can be good looking problem people in every family.

Wooly Bear caterpillar, Pyrrharctia Isabella, Garden Dillemas ask Mary Stone, Garden Tips

Wooly Bear caterpillar / Pyrrharctia Isabella

Garden Dilemmas?



Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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