Stinging Caterpillars: Cute, Fuzzy…but Itchy

‘Tis the season where little ones discover a world full of creepy, crawly things in the backyard and the playground.  Centipedes, inchworms, and caterpillars make great finds for anyone’s bug catcher, but know that there are several creatures to beware of.

Several types of caterpillars can cause a very ugly reaction because of their stinging hairs. The good news is that only a few of the thousands of variety of caterpillars sting.  However, if you come across a stinger, be careful of its hairs, which once embedded in skin, release toxins that cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including a poison ivy-like rash, a severe burning sensation, and swelling.  Hypersensitive reactions can include severe swelling, difficulty breathing, and a generalized system reaction.

If you spot any of the following critters, admire from afar; do not pick them up.  If you find one of these on your clothing, remove immediately using some kind of barrier such as thick gloves and a towel you can discard.

1. The Saddleback caterpillar is brown in the front and rear, and has a very noticeable green “saddle” on its back, with a purplish-brown spot in the middle. There are prominent horns on the front and rear.  Saddlebacks tend to feed on the underside of leaves, and are typically found on oak, cherry, plum, chestnut, and basswood trees.  They are sometimes found on corn as well.

Next: The Puss Caterpillar

2. The Puss Caterpillar looks like a super-fuzzy cat, with light to dark brown or graying fur.  There are small patches of white on each side of its body.  The puss caterpillar has been found on American holly, as well as apple, maple, oak, elm, pecan, and sycamore trees.  Contact can cause severe burning and pain that lasts for several hours.

Next: The Io Moth Caterpillar

3. The Io Moth Caterpillar is overall light green, but along each side there is a narrow white or yellow and reddish line.  These caterpillars are covered with branched, black-pointed green spines. They feed on a wide variety of trees, corn, and clover.

Next: Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

4. The Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar is incredibly eye-catching, with their beautiful black and white hair.  They are mostly are found on corn leaves, vegetable plants, shrubs and trees. A poison ivy-like rash often develops from contact with this caterpillar.

If you have the misfortune of being stung, you can use tape to remove some of the broken spines in the affected area. Follow by washing the area thoroughly with soap and water in order to remove some of the remaining venom. An ice pack may help to reduce pain and prevent swelling. In cases of severe reactions, eye stings or prolonged symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

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Feather W.
Feather W.6 months ago


Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you :)

Catrin K.

Thanks for sharing .They are beautiful especially the fuzzy guys !

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra2 years ago

Thank you Teri, for Sharing this!

Val M.
Val M.2 years ago

I love caterpillars, but I admire from afar!

Roger M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Lovely. Thanks.

LMj Sunshine

Amazing, thank you!

LMj Sunshine

Amazing, thank you!

Heidi Awes
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Butterflies (what caterpillars turn into) are a sentinal species. They are extremely sensitive to environmental changes and tip off scientists early on that something is up with the environment.

KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.