SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - They're back. Entomologists said that gypsy moths so pervasive last year are back with a vengeance this year.

Not only can gypsy moth caterpillars quickly strip trees of leaves, if touched, doctors said they can also leave an itchy and sometimes painful rash.

The gypsy moths eggs laid last year have hatched and entomologists said that the caterpillars, or in-stars, are here.

"By the first of May, they've hatched and they're out. They're in their first instar. That means that they're going to start eating and they're going to continue to grow," said Bob Russell with American Pest Solutions.

Russell said that these guys can munch their way through leaves in hours, devastating the tree.

"Their first choice is oaks. Once they've depleted oaks, they'll go after other types of trees. We'll even see them hit pine trees in a real heavy infestation," Russell added.

Russell told Western Mass News what started as an eastern Massachusetts problem has spread west.

"The female can deposit up to a thousand eggs in an egg mass, so you can see that this can move on quickly and escalate," Russell said.

They may be cute, but Dr. John O'Reilly at Baystate Medical Center said if touched, those little hairs on the caterpillar can get into the skin.

"And there's essentially two kinds of reactions. One is sort of a painful reaction where the kids really feel that it's tender. The other is more an allergy reaction. It almost looks like mosquito bites or welts," O'Reilly explained.

Symptoms can include stinging or pain, those welts or small, fluid-filled sacs, raised red bumps, often in a line, and patches of red, scaly skin.

O'Reilly said that treatment includes ice or, in more painful cases, hydrocortisone and antihistamines.

"Just be aware, look what is there because these are falling out of the trees, these are right there on the ground that kids are picking up," O'Reilly added.

O'Reilly said symptoms for adults are generally more severe. Trees can be treated with a spray, but Russell said now is the time.

"If you wait until June, mid-June, it's almost too late," Russell noted.

O'Reilly told us a rash can develop within minutes or hours after contact. Since everyone's reaction can be different, he said questions should be directed to your own doctor or child's pediatrician.

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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