Warning over toxic caterpillars in Horsham area

Oak processionary moth. Photo: Buglife.org.uk SUS-190513-164637001
Oak processionary moth. Photo: Buglife.org.uk SUS-190513-164637001

An alert is being sounded over poisonous caterpillars invading gardens in the Horsham area.

A number have been spotted in Billingshurst which earlier this month was plagued by a swarm of flies.

Many people have taken to social media querying what type of caterpillars they are - thought to be either brown-tail moth or oak processionary moth, both of which are toxic.

One woman - who thinks they are brown-tail moth - said she had experienced a couple of invasions. “The itchy rash they can cause is awful. The hairs end up floating in the air and you can get a rash without even touching them.”

Others maintain they are harmless if not touched.

The oak processionary moth arrived in this country from Southern Europe. The caterpillar is covered in many tiny toxic hairs. Experts say that contact with the hairs can cause itchy eyes and skin, and may also trigger asthma attacks.

The moth’s caterpillars feed voraciously on oak trees, destroying leaves.

Brown tail moth is an insect native to the UK that has hairy black caterpillars which can caused extensive defoliation.

They are up to 30mm long, blackish with a white band along the sides. The body is covered with brownish hairs which readily break off and can cause intense irritation and skin rash.

The moth is recognised as being a public health problem, as well as having a severe impact on the growth of trees and shrubs.