The white marked tussock moth can cause rashes, and shouldn't be handled by children.
Photo: Forestry Archive, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bugwood.org
In early spring of last year, dozens of children in the Tampa, FL area developed mysterious rashes. A report released by the CDC this week links the kids' skin irritations to the white marked tussock moth caterpillar, Orgyia leucostigma. At least one child at a daycare center is believed to have handled one of the fuzzy caterpillars. This species is one of a number of stinging caterpillars with urticating setae, barbed hairs loaded with an irritating toxin.
White marked tussock moths are native to North America. The caterpillars feed on a number of host trees, especially birch, cherry, and apple. In some years, the population can become so dense that caterpillars become quite a nuisance, covering sidewalks and other surfaces outdoors. The caterpillars were so numerous on one of the school playgrounds, a worker reported, that they had to keep children indoors.
Dr. Vincent Iannelli, About.com Guide to Pediatrics, shared the CDC's recommendations for dealing with caterpillar-associated rashes in his blog post about the CDC report. You can also visit his excellent site for advice on treating other insect-related bites and stings.