Warning Over Hairy Caterpillars

9 May 2011, 13:16 | Updated: 9 May 2011, 16:13

People in Chichester are being urged to stay away from red haired caterpillars after two people were hospitalised following a severe skin reaction.

The caterpillars, which turn into brown tailed moths, can cause extreme skin irritation, and even cause the throat to swell. So far they have been found in Nutbourne, Chichester, and Selsey.

Pests controllers say large nests have also been found in Portsmouth and Bournemouth.

Due to the warm weather we have been getting recently, there has been a large increase in the number of caterpillars.

"We don't normally see these type of caterpillars until later in the year, around June time. We want residents and visitors to enjoy the lovely sunshine that we have been getting, but urge everyone to stay away and not touch these caterpillars. Their bodies are covered in thousands of tiny hairs, which they will shed if they are touched or poked. The hairs then become airbourne and will cause severe irritation to the skin. If they are inhaled, they can cause the throat to swell," says Karl Hitchcock, Pest Control Officer at Chichester District Council.

The caterpillars are black with white side marks and orange spots – and they are very hairy. They can be found in hedgerow or shrubbery and can range from just a few, to thousands.

"The birds don't eat this type of caterpillar and so they can multiply in numbers easily and quickly," says Karl.

"We would advise anyone who thinks they have spotted these caterpillars to stay away from them and call us. If anyone touches a caterpillar accidentally, go to your GP or hospital to get treatment."

If you spot one of these caterpillars, call Chichester District Council's Pest Control Team on 01243 534734 or email contact@chichester.gov.uk