American Dagger caterpillar

The Clare Area Chamber of Commerce is warning residents not to pick up a poisonous caterpillar that has been found in the area.

The American Dagger caterpillar was spotted during a hike through the trails on Mid Michigan College's campus, the chamber of commerce said.

"These cute caterpillars may seem harmless, but they are indeed poisonous," the chamber of commerce said.

Children and adults can be affected by the caterpillars.

"It's a native species, but at this time of year a lot of people encounter it because it's actually leaving the trees where it spent most the summer eating the leaves and it's going to look for a place to spend the winter," said Alicia Wallace, entomologist and gypsy moth expert in Bay County.

Wallace has studied the life cycle of the American Dagger caterpillar in Michigan.

She said around this time of year you will usually find the dagger moth in your garden or in a tree, but it's always better to look and not touch.

"They have chemicals in them that are considered toxins because they're there to deter birds from eating them," Wallace said.

Although painful, Wallace said the stingers are not deadly but can cause itching and burning sensations on the skin.

"They'll make people break out in rashes, but in the sense of poisonous - it's more of a sting, like a sting from a stinging nettle type plant," Wallace said.

The American Dagger caterpillar is most active from spring to early autumn.

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