Nature’s Reflections – Stinging Caterpillars

Nature’s Reflections – Stinging Caterpillars

Curious? Stop! Severe pain follows just a touch


Beware of beautiful caterpillars packing a powerful and painful sting. Four of Florida’s seven stinging caterpillars are common to this area. These caterpillars do not have stingers, but irritating hairs or bristled spines connected to poison glands that produce the stinging sensation, swelling and severe pain. Reactions experienced are sometimes so severe that people often seek medical attention thinking they may be having a heart attack or life threatening event.


The Io moth caterpillar (Automeris io), photo above, is a light green caterpillar with yellow and red stripes. It’s about two inches long. The nettling spines are usually yellow with black tips. They are often seen in groups raising the onlookers curiosity as to what it may be.


The Puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis), inset photo gets its name from its resemblance to a pussycat. At just one inch in length, it’s covered with light brown hairs. When touched, these hairs, attached to poison glands, and break off in the skin causing severe pain. It is commonly found in oaks and citrus trees, but may feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs.


Nature's Reflection Stinging Caterpillars


The Saddleback caterpillar (Sabine stimulea) is brown and green with a brown oval on its back that looks like a saddle on a green horse blanket. It is also about an inch long with a stout body. Stinging spines and hairs that inflict pain to the unwary.


The Hag caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium), is light-to dark-brown also with stinging hairs. Three less common stinging caterpillars in Florida are the Buck moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia), the Spiny oak-slug caterpillar, (Euclea delphinii), and the Flannel moth caterpillar, (Norape ovina).


If stung, remain as calm and quiet as possible. Notify a companion in case assistance becomes necessary. According to the Poison Control Center, apply adhesive tape over the affected area and pull off to remove the spines from the skin. Ice packs, followed by a paste of baking soda and water may help reduce the stinging, or burning. If you suspect a serious reaction, then it is advisable to seek medical assistance right away.


Column & photo by: Sandi Staton

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