They seem harmless enough from a distance, but the Department of Environmental Conservation is warning about the damage that they can do.

They're called "spongy moth caterpillars" (formerly gypsy moth caterpillars) and you've probably seen them around your house in New York State.  The DEC is saying that it's best to deal with them as soon as possible before they multiply and cause more damage.

Where do you find spongy moth caterpillars?

You'll find them in states all across the northeastern part of the United States. Normally you'll notice spongy moth caterpillars in trees or on wood surfaces like firewood piles or wooden surfaces of your home.  Many people confuse these caterpillars with eastern tent caterpillars (which are also very destructive).  But while eastern tent caterpillars build a very distinct tent-like nest in the trees, spongy moth caterpillars just lay egg masses. They do not make silky tents.

What is so bad about them?

Spongy moth caterpillars are known to eat leaves and trees.  They do enough damage that many times the trees or shrubs die.  If they find their way onto your house, they could do even more damage.  To have them removed professionally once they spread could become very costly.

Do they cause any issues with humans?

The DEC is warning people to look out for these caterpillars because while they can damage your home and trees, they can actually cause a little damage to you too.

It's a process they call ballooning where they let out a piece of silk to move through the air.  If they come into contact with you, they can cause a rash.

How do you deal with the spongy moth caterpillars?

Experts suggest trying to catch them early and destroy the egg masses if you see them in your trees or wood piles.  Simply scrape them off into a jar filled with water and dish soap and let them sit for 24 hours to make sure they do not survive.

If it's too late in the season and you've already got moths in your trees, you can squish them yourself, or call a company to remove or treat for them.  Just don't wait.  These caterpillars tend to reproduce quickly and can cause real damage to your property.

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