Touching these East Anglian caterpillars could be a rash move

Caterpillars of the brown tail moth. ENGANL00120110419152524
Caterpillars of the brown tail moth. ENGANL00120110419152524
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Experts have warned people not to touch colonies of hairy caterpillars infesting trees and hedges across East Anglia because they cause an allergic reaction.

The silk web nests of brown tail moth caterpillars have been found in large numbers around Beck Row and in previous years have had population eruptions in the Brecks and north Norfolk.

A brown tail moth caterpillar 'nest'. ENGANL00120110419152539

A brown tail moth caterpillar 'nest'. ENGANL00120110419152539

They overwinter as caterpillars, so the mild winter means there are plenty of them preparing to pupate. The moth is white with a brown tip to its body.

They eat a wide variety of trees and the Forestry Commission warns anyone having to deal with them to wear gloves and face protection because their hairs can cause rashes and breathing problems.

Tony Pritchard of the Suffolk Moths Group said: “Previously restricted to the more eastern parts of the county, they’ve been spreading westwards and large numbers can turn up at a time causing concern among the local population.

“They’ll soon pupate and then be forgotten about for another year.”

He suggests that if they are near homes it is wise to keep windows closed if you are sensitive.

But it could be worse. One Facebook poster misidentified the Beck Row caterpillars as processionary moth larvae – so called because they move from tree to tree in long lines – which produce a far stronger allergic reaction in people and pets.

Tony said: “The oak processionary is generally considered more of problem because it is considered a forestry pest.

“I’ve not yet had records of this moth being resident in the county so for the moment we’re safe. However, it’s probably only a matter of time before it does turn up as the Forestry [Commission] don’t seem to be having much success containing the outbreaks around London.”