Toxicology: Beware the Woolly Worm

Most adults dislike caterpillars for vague, undefinable reasons, while most children like to stroke their cute, fuzzy backs. The adults are right. At least 50 species, among the hundreds of caterpillars in the U.S., are a hazard to health simply because some of the long and often colorful hair on their backs is irritating or even poisonous to the touch.

The worst offender, say Dr. Campbell W. McMillan and Dr. William R. Purcell in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the caterpillar that grows into one of the flannel moths, Megalopyge opercularis. Country folk use so many other...

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