What Are The Fuzzy Caterpillars in Florida?

08 April 2024 · 3 min read


If you live in Florida and have been near oak trees this spring, you may have noticed a lot of fuzzy hairy caterpillars. These insects are the larvae of tussock moths, which are native to North America and common in Florida.

In Florida, there are three types of these insects: the fir tussock moth, the white-marked tussock moth, and the definite tussock moth. The most common of the three in Florida is the fir tussock moth, followed by the white- marked tussock moth. The definite tussock moth is extremely rare. These colorful, hairy caterpillars emerge from their eggs in late February or early March. By early April, they have grown and spun their cocoons. 

The cocoons are typically found on houses, park benches, and other outdoor surfaces, and they are difficult to remove. They contain caterpillar hairs that can irritate the skin and cause itchy, burning sensations. People in Florida should be careful around these cocoons and avoid directly touching them to stay clear of getting sting by their sharp spines.

Fir tussock moth caterpillars

Why You Should Care

Those fuzzy caterpillars eating your trees and bushes may appear soft, but beware! The seemingly soft hairs sticking out from them are actually sharp spines that can deliver painful stings to people and inject harmful venom into the skin.

These hungry caterpillars will consume the leaves of nearly any plant in your yard. They can quickly transform your beautiful landscaping into bare, naked stems and branches.

In Florida’s warm climate, tussock moth caterpillars are able to thrive and reproduce in greater numbers compared to cooler regions. Their high tolerance for heat allows them to have multiple breeding cycles per year. Additionally, they emerge earlier in spring as temperatures rise sooner.

How to Identify Caterpillars 

Discovering caterpillars in your yard is often straightforward but identifying them can pose a challenge. Look out for caterpillars that are covered in fine, bristly hairs, with tufts of longer hair near the head and back. These caterpillars come in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, red, or black in color. Check oak, elm, fruit, or any trees outside in your yard, as tussock moths caterpillars love feeding on leaves. You might also notice patchy defoliation where they’ve eaten. In the fall and winter months, look for oval, hairy cocoons on trees and surfaces. Tussock moth caterpillars are easily identified by their distinctive bristly appearance.

How Can You Treat Them 

If you’ve noticed white, hairy fir tussock moth caterpillars feeding on your yard’s leaves, it’s essential to take action before they take over your backyard. Here are some methods for controlling and removing fir tussock moth caterpillars.

Hand-Picking: Using gloves or tongs, carefully pluck the caterpillar from the leaves or branches , then drop it into a bucket of soapy water to kill it. Check the plants on a regular basis, and carefully handpick any new caterpillars you see.

Remove Cocoons: Wear a long-sleeved shirt and remove any cocoons from trees, structures, or surfaces in your yard using a high-pressure spray. This approach can help you prevent caterpillars from hatching.  

By recognizing their distinctive bristly appearance, you’ll be able to quickly identify and tackle any tussock moth infestation in your yard. If you have any questions about caterpillars, you can call Greenhouse Termite and Pest Control, we are here to help.

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