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‘They’re all over:’ Tussock moth caterpillars are swarming in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — You may have noticed an increase in a red-headed furry caterpillar in recent weeks throughout Jacksonville.

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They’re the Tussock Moth caterpillar and you’re not going to want to touch them.

Tussock Moth caterpillars are in season and Jacksonville locals like Danielle Strouble are taking notice.

Strouble and her neighbors captured clips of the critters crawling on their homes and also caught camps of their cocoons lining their roofs.

“They’re all over Mayport and the beaches area. All my friends and I have been talking about them and last night we were jokingly saying let’s call the news and figure out where these things are coming from!” said Strouble.

“They get blown by the wind. They get knocked off the trees. They sometimes get on your residential foliage and they can defoliate shrubs,” said Assistant Professor of Entomology at UF Lauren Diepenbrock.

Deipenbrock said consistent temperatures this winter may be to blame for the hoards of caterpillars.

“This year it’s been a longer cool period. So, it may have synchronized the young leaves on the oak tree, which could then also synchronize the hatching of these caterpillars,” said Deipenbrock.

She noted Tussock Moth caterpillars don’t pose any major risks to gardens or humans, but advised not touching their hairy venomous bodies or even their cocoons with bare skin.

“If you touch them it’s going to feel like you’re getting stung. It’s not a long-term thing. There are no long-term venom issues,” said Deipenbrock.

And if the critters start to bug you, she explained there are easy ways of disposing of them safely.

“A lot of people in may field like to garden and all we do is we take a bucket, literally like a garden bucket of soapy water. You got garden gloves on. With the garden gloves just throw them in there. They’re gonna drown. Just toss them out. It’s the easiest option out there,” said Deipenbrock.

April is generally the peak season for these caterpillars.

By mid-month most will either be tucked away in their cocoons are nearing that phase, and by the end of April, they’ll have pretty much all become moths.

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