Stinging Caterpillars

The story of the stinging caterpillar remains a difficult story to tell.

On the one hand, the vast majority of the thousands of native caterpillars pose no stinging threat to humans. On the other hand a story of a handful of stinging caterpillars could potentially scare the reader away from the entire caterpillar world.

Most people remain unaware of the darker side of the caterpillar world, the world of stinging caterpillars, and it need be noted that the pain associated with unanticipated engagements with stinging caterpillars make for life time memories. Those victims unaware of the stinging caterpillar phenomena might assign blame for the bite to the mythical 'spider bite' catgory.

A discussion of stinging caterpillars begins with the approximately ten Hemileuca species, a genus of moths collectively called Buckmoths, and they belong to the same family (Saturniidae) as the Giant Silkworm and Royal moths.

Many such as the Elegant Sheepmoth have colorful wings and/or bodies.

Stinging spines on Hemileuca caterpillars make identifying them an important health issue. The first two pictures on this page provide some basic identification clues.

Their bodies are usually hairless with the exception of patterns of small spines encircling the body segments.

picture of a western sheep moth caterpillar, hemileuca eglanterina

picture of an Elegant Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina)

The top picture shows hemileuca tricolor, a resident of Southern Arizona. Picture two shows Hemileuca eglanterina, the larvae of the Elegant Sheep Moth, a resident of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

People who consider moths to be dull may have never seen the Elegant Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina), sometimes called the Western Sheep Moth.

The striking mix of pink, orange and black wing and body shades brings to mind other colorful moths in their family, Saturniidae, which also consists of the giant silkworm moths.

They get their name from their habitat, Western grasslands suitable for rearing sheep.

picture of a puss caterpillar Megalopyge opercularis)

Warm and fuzzy would not be the proper phrase for describing the Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis), also known as an Asp.

This larvae of the flannel moth feed on leaves from a variety of broad-leaf trees and shrubs in the Southeast United States, especially during the late summer and fall.

Body contact with the caterpillar results in a sting, producing a severe pain that can easily extend beyond a one hour time frame. Several medical reports state patients also experience shortness of breath, nausea and other symptoms requiring medical attention.

While puss caterpillars mostly remain on leaves, they sometimes wander on the ground and, as the picture shows, on picnic tables.

Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, along with shoes and socks, prevents unwanted stings for individuals who wander around puss caterpillar territory.

picture of a saddleback caterpillar Megalopyge opercularis)

Folks in the Eastern United States continued to be reminded to watch out for the colorful, furry critter known as the Saddleback Caterpillar (Sibine stimulea).

Small in size, about one inch long, their spines pack a powerful sting.

General feeders, saddleback caterpillars can be found on the leaves of trees, shrubs and flowers, even potted plants.

Their propensity to feed on the underside of the leaves, hiding themselves from view, increases the chances of an individual being unexpectedly stung during routine lawn and garden activities.

Wearing gloves during chores in saddleback caterpillar territory decreases the possibility of being stung.

With the exception of people who are extremely sensitive to stings, most people who fall victim to a saddleback caterpillar sting can remedy the situation by cleaning the sting site and applying ice.

© 2008-2013. Patricia A. Michaels.