I ran across lots of critters in my work in the yard yesterday. Spiders and beetles were out in force, and I also encountered this striking white and black caterpillar crawling on an old birch tree stump.
My rule in the garden is to look — and photograph, where warranted — but don’t touch. I let the creatures go their own way unimpeded. In this instance, that turned out to be a wise policy, because according to the ever-useful University of Maine Cooperative Extension website this particular caterpillar is a Hickory Tussock caterpillar, and those white hairy tufts can cause a powerful and very itchy rash, especially for kids who can’t resist picking up things like caterpillars. The U of Maine also cautions people to be careful not to come in contact with them when raking leaves in the fall.
The Hickory Tussock caterpillar loves hardwood trees, like birch trees, and will be spinning its cocoon in the near future, using leaf debris and its own white hairs. The caterpillars then produce tiger moths, which are pretty common up here.