What are these invasive fuzzy black caterpillars taking over East Texas?

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – People have seen them crawling across roads, in the grass and in their gardens.

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“It’s the famous woolly bear caterpillar,” Greg Grant, Smith County Horticulturist Texas A&M extension services Tyler, said.

These fuzzy black, brown, or yellow insects are salt marsh caterpillars that are usually seen in the fall when they normally transition into moths.

“This year, it was springtime, probably because of the mild winter, a lot of rainfall, a lot of vegetation,” Grant said.

Though some people think that it may be dangerous, it actually will not harm you or your pets.

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“They do not sting, the hairs can be irritating for people if they, you know, touch-sensitive parts of the skin or something, but they’re not venomous, they’re not stinging caterpillars,” Wizzie Brown, senior program specialist-IPM Entomology, Texas A&M AgriLife, said.

Owner of Bluebird Farmstand BW Ferris said the salt marsh caterpillars aren’t good for some already struggling East Texas farmers.

“They go after the potatoes, the broad leaves such as potatoes, cabbage, you’re going to see them real active in those areas,” Ferris said.

The best protection are a few biological insecticides, organic sprays and row covers that can be used to keep the pesky insects away.

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