Residents and visitors to the New Forest are being advised not to touch Brown-tail Moth caterpillars after more sightings than usual have been reported to the council so far this year.
The creatures, which have brown spiky hairs with a distinctive white line down each side and are 7-38mm long, can cause skin and eye irritation and breathing difficulties, particularly in children and in those with existing conditions such as asthma.
Residents and visitors who come into contact with the insects are advised to wash any irritated skin with water and apply calamine lotion on the skin which may ease itching.
If serious breathing difficulties occur, people should seek medical advice.
The caterpillars become active in the spring, creating 'tents' in hedges and bushes. They begin to emerge from their tents in April and start to spread out into and feed on the surrounding foliage.
After spinning a cocoon, the adult moths emerge in July and August, ready to mate.