TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida health officials are warning residents to beware of venomous, fuzzy caterpillars that are known to cause an allergic reaction.

According to a report from the University of Florida, Tussock Moth Caterpillars, which appear colorful and hairy, hatch from the overwintering eggs around March 1. The caterpillars then feed and grow over a period of 4 to 6 weeks.

Children playing outdoors may encounter dark-colored or white-marked caterpillars which are occasionally abundant and widespread in northcentral Florida.

“The problem is that they are like little porcupines,” UF professor Dr. Norman Leppla told WESH. “Those hairs will get caught in the skin, and cause an irritation and they have a little venom as well, so it’s important for the kids to stay away from them.”

“Besides the annoying presence of numerous hairy caterpillars, these insects may spin their difficult-to-remove cocoons on houses, boats, picnic tables, and other outdoor articles,” the UF report added.

University of Florida via WESH

If you do touch a caterpillar, apply tape sticky side down, and rip it off to remove the hairs. Then wash the area with soap and water and use ice and baking soda to stop the irritation.

Caterpillar activity eventually ends when male moths emerge and fly away from mid-April into early May.