TWO people have had to go to hospital after touching a hairy caterpillar.
They both suffered a severe skin reaction after coming into contact with the red-haired caterpillar.
The creatures, which turn into brown tailed moths, can cause extreme skin irritation, and even cause the throat to swell.
The two people who went to hospital, from the Chichester area, will make a recovery after receiving treatment.
But Chichester District Council has now issued a warning for people to beware of coming into contact with the creature, which has soared in numbers due to the warm weather recently.
So far they have been found in Nutbourne, Chichester, and Selsey and are common in hedgerows and shrubs.
Karl Hitchcock, the council’s pest control officer, said: ‘We don’t normally see these type of caterpillars until later in the year, around June.
‘We want residents and visitors to enjoy the lovely sunshine that we have been getting, but urge everyone to stay away from and not touch these caterpillars.
‘Their bodies are covered in thousands of tiny hairs, which they will shed if they are touched or poked.
‘The hairs then become airborne and will cause severe irritation to the skin. If they are inhaled, they can cause the throat to swell.’
The caterpillars are black with white side marks and orange spots.
They can range from just a few, to thousands.
Mr Hitchcock added: ‘The birds don’t eat this type of caterpillar and so they can multiply in numbers easily and quickly.
‘We would advise anyone who thinks they have spotted these caterpillars to stay away from them and call us.
‘If anyone touches a caterpillar accidentally, go to your GP or hospital to get treatment.’
Caterpillar hair has long been known as a cause of health problems, with hairs emitting venom in some species and even causing death in severe cases.
However, encountering the red-haired caterpillar is only likely to give a painful rash when the sharp barbs on the end of its hairs get lodged in the skin.
Anyone who spots the caterpillar should call the Chichester council on 01243 534734.