A TOWN has come under attack from an army of itch-inducing caterpillars.

Residents in Newhaven have been scratching themselves silly after the sudden emergence of thousands of brown-tail moth caterpillars.

While for the most the creepy crawlies are harmless, they can cause serious problems for those with respiratory illnesses.

Hayley Stevens, from Newhaven, has been living with an infestation at her home.

She said: “The caterpillars are a real problem when the little hairs on their backs break off and float in the wind.

“I haven’t felt this itchy since I had the chicken pox as a child, and I admit calamine lotion isn’t an especially good look.”

The caterpillars are active in the spring but it is not known why they are around in such large numbers this year.

They can cause rashes, itching and hay fever.

Craig Davies, from Sussex Pest Control, said: “It’s a problem which has only come around in the last 10 years or so, and it gets worse and worse, though I started noticing them about four years ago.”

He explained that at this time of year they come out of their tents, which are white cocoons in which they live, while in caterpillar form.

He added: “Generally treatments with pesticides don’t work against them because the tents are waterproof and the pesticide just sits on top of them.”

He said the best way to get rid of them was to collect the tents and dispose of them, usually by burning them. However, he urged caution when moving them as their hairs break off and cause itching.

Pauline Curl, from Newhaven, said: “There are so many people out there that have no idea what ill effects these caterpillars can cause.

“I dread to think of a serious reaction that any one individual might suffer as a consequence.”

Wealden District Council is understood to be working with Lewes District Council to deal with the problem.

In a note on their website, they advise: “Great care should be taken to avoid touching the caterpillars and, in cases of large infestations, it would be wise to keep windows closed to prevent caterpillars entering into your house.

“The only certain way of eliminating any infestation is by pruning out and burning the tents.”

They added: “If you are affected, the rash will be similar to severe nettle rash. The discomfort should subside after a few hours.

“A warm bath, with the application of calamine lotion or antihistamine cream, may ease the itching.

“If any other symptoms are experienced or the irritation persists, medical advice should be sought without delay.”

Visit wealden.gov.uk for more information.


Brown-tail moth caterpillars are active in the spring, and hatch into moths in the months of July and August.

They are furry looking and brown, with two distinctive white stripes down their sides and two reddish dots on their backs, near the tail.

Do not go near the caterpillars without protective clothing covering exposed skin.

If there is contact, a rash similar to a severe nettle sting could occur.

Soak any rash in warm water and apply calamine lotion to the affected areas.