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Stinging Caterpillars

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Late summer and early fall is the time when most stinging encounters with caterpillars occur. There are around nine different stinging caterpillars in this country. Physical contact with one of these creatures can be realized as a stinging or itching sensation. The tiny hollow quills on their body are connected to poison sacs. Brushing against the spine triggers a release of the poison. Some caterpillars have a more severe sting than others. Several of the caterpillars in the stinging category do not possess typical characteristics of caterpillars in appearance whatsoever.

Last week our son brought a leaf to me from the snowball bush next to the house. On it was the most intriguing caterpillar I had ever seen. It looked like a miniature Scotty dog wearing a blanket with two stiff tufts of hair on either side of its head. It was rather cute. A little research revealed this to be a Saddleback Caterpillar, definitely in the stinging category.

Stinging caterpillars can generally be found on deciduous trees such as oak and chestnut. However, the Saddleback and Io Moth can also be found on corn plants. The Puss Caterpillar is thought to carry the most severe sting of all. It does not look like a caterpillar at first glance with its fuzzy soft appearance and has been found on English ivy and roses. Probably the most unusual of all stinging caterpillars is the Hagmoth. Its shape resembles a dried, brown leaf. Other stinging caterpillars include: Buck Moth, Hickory Tussock Moth, Silverspotted Tiger Moth, Stinging Rose Caterpillar, and Euclea delphinii.

When pruning shrubs and trees, wear gloves to avoid accidental contact with caterpillars. A good rule of thumb to teach children is that any caterpillars that are hairy, prickly or fuzzy are best left untouched. Being able to recognize these poisonous creatures is the best line of defense. I encourage you to view the superb photographs at

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First Aide Treatment for Stings —
Wash the area in soap and water first. Use scotch tape to remove any spines left in your skin. Applications of baking soda paste, calamine lotion or ammonia have been reported to give some relief to the stinging sensation. If swelling occurs, apply ice packs. Those with allergic reactions may seek professional medical assistance.

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