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NEW ORLEANS -- Prepare for the annual spring assault of the buck moth caterpillars.

'The caterpillars are starting to crawl down the trunks of the trees right now,' said Michael Carroll, entomologist with the New Orleans Mosquito Control Board. 'They started about a week ago.'

They grow from eggs into caterpillars on the branches of live and water oaks in the metro area. But, in the next three weeks they'll be dropping from the trees.

When touched, the buck moth caterpillar can produce a painful, burning sting. It's caused by liquid on the caterpillar's spins, which puncture the skin.

'When they first hit you out of the tree, they automatically sting,' said Kelly Thomas from New Orleans. 'I guess because they're falling. When it stung me, it hurt so bad. I was screaming, hooping and hollering and everybody across the street from me were laughing because I was scared.'

'I just felt the sting and then I realized it was a caterpillar, and I got a little swelling here and got a little fever,' said Steve Jackson from New Orleans. 'It's not a a very good feeling.'

'The best thing to do is to take some scotch tape and try to pull the spines out and then any type of topical anesthetic is usually sufficient,' said Carroll.

Carroll said there are early indications that the caterpillar problem may not be as bad as last year's infestation.

'We're expecting a moderate season which means somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the trees that we normally survey will probably have caterpillars.'

Still, Kelly Thomas says as long as there are caterpillars in the trees, she'll use an umbrella when walking under the oaks.

'I won't even go to school in the summer time anymore because I'm afraid of the caterpillars. Isn't that horrible?'

Experts say putting foil or white paint around the base of your trees won't keep the caterpillars out of your yard. Instead, they recommend you use caterpillar sprays available at most home improvement stores.

Also, Parkway Partners can help you find a professional to spray your trees.

The number is 504-620-2224. The cost is $75 a tree.

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