Thom Smith: Stop! Don't touch that fuzzy, white caterpillar

Q: When I walk around my gardens, I frequently see a hairy white caterpillar, about 1 1/4" long. It has a tiny black bead-like head and a row of tiny black triangle-like marks down its back. Sometimes there is a pair of spike-like hairs on each side, front and back. I wonder if it is a pest that I should know.

— Emilie, Pittsfield

A: What you have been trying to identify is the hickory tussock moth caterpillar, a "soft, furry" visitor you don't want to pet or pick up. Many are allergic to this attractive caterpillar, also called the hickory tiger moth. Where hickory is common it might prefer that to the oak, beech and maple leaves served in these parts. I found several at the base of a maple tree in our front yard. And to repeat myself, touching one can cause an itchy rash like poison ivy does. In some people, it can be worse. This moth is not usually a pest in the northeast.

Q: I've noticed in late summer and into the fall (during the warm nights we've had) that coming from the trees in our yard is something that goes back and forth making a 'want, want, want' sound. Are they some kind of nocturnal insects or maybe tree frogs of some sort? There are certainly many of them and the sounds can be heard at any time during the night.

— Nancy, Pittsfield

A: It does not sound like any cricket that I am familiar with, and the noisy cicadas buzz during the day. Tree frogs, like the gray tree frog and spring peeper, will call both day and night during late summer. I would not translate their call to "want." I don't think you are hearing katydids or crickets. Katydids quickly repeat their name, often without intermission unless startled.

I welcome suggestions, if any readers know what it may be.


The warm weather must be keeping our reptiles active in Berkshire County and Southern Vermont, as I have received several inquiries in the past week relating to snake identification (that I answered by email). If you have snake identification questions, check


I want to acknowledge a photograph of a sandhill crane taken May 5 on the lawn in front of their barn in Windsor by David and Melody, who write, "We returned home after shopping to find it on our doorstep under the awning following the rainstorm. We sat in the driveway watching our 'guest.' It eventually walked around the house and explored the lawn in front of the barn."

Questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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