The caterpillars of the browntail moth take over the Swan Memorial Garden opposite St Clements Church in June every year. The council has temporarily closed the gardens.
They are known to be present in other area of Hastings and St Leonards - including Hollington, where resident Sid Saunders took these pictures.
The toxic hairs shed by browntail moth caterpillars can cause a severe rash or respiratory issues for those who encounter them. These hairs are easily encountered once they become airborne. Many people don’t even know they are being exposed because the hairs are so small.
The most common reaction occurs when the caterpillar hairs contact the skin. This can cause both chemical reactions to the toxins and physical irritation when the hairs get embedded in the skin. The chemical reaction, referred to as dermatitis, produces a severe rash similar to poison ivy. Symptoms include itchy, blistered and swelled skin. The rash itself is not contagious. It’s caused by a reaction to the toxins that are in the hairs.
Respiratory issues are less common but can be particularly problematic for asthmatics. If you have asthma, you should carry your inhaler with you when spending time outside, especially during windy conditions.
If the hairs get caught in the mucosal areas of the mouth or throat they can cause burning, irritation or itchiness. Symptoms may be relieved by taking liquid Benadryl or applying calamine lotion which helps counter the histamine reaction that the hairs can cause. Symptoms can appear within hours of contact and usually subside after a few hours, but people should seek medical advise if the symptoms persist.
Butterfly Conservation says the number of browntail moth caterpillars has increased in recent years, particularly in southern England, with a surge in 2019.