There are some species of stinging caterpillars, despite the fact that most types of caterpillars are harmless. Caterpillars that are hairless or have spiky bodies are most likely poisonous and stingy. A painful sting like a bee’s might be left on handling one of these ferocious caterpillars. It’s vital to determine the species of caterpillar before grabbing any kind, so you know if it’s dangerous or not.
In the class of Insecta, all caterpillars are larvae belonging to the order of moths and butterflies known as Lepidoptera. Caterpillars are hungry eaters when they hatch from eggs, and plant and tree leaves are the primary food source for them. Caterpillars can do significant harm to plant foliage, even if they are not poisonous.
The size, color, sort of bristles or spines, and habitat of caterpillars must be taken into consideration when identifying them. Some insect larvae, such as those of moths and butterflies, may appear similar. Caterpillars have a maximum of 5 pairs of prolegs, which distinguishes them.
Other kinds of crawling insects might have more. The spine or fine hairs that cover the bodies of most stinging caterpillars are enough to identify them.
Caterpillars develop into moths or butterflies after a number of phases of development. It’s critical to keep this in mind. This implies that prior to the pupation stage, immature larvae might seem different from caterpillars. This list contains descriptions of adult caterpillars that are poisonous.
How Can You Tell if a Caterpillar is Venomous?
It isn’t always the case that a caterpillar that appears spiky, hairy, fuzzy, or furry is dangerous. What exactly do some hairy caterpillars do? Do poisonous caterpillars have a bite? Some caterpillar species, according to the University of Florida, have urticating hairs, which are stinging hairs.
Barbed bristles or spines might break off and become embedded in your skin. This might produce an irritation that is comparable to working with fiberglass. As a result, caterpillars that are stinging don’t sting in the same way wasps or bees do.
Other stinging caterpillar species’ spikes or spines contain harmful chemicals as well. When caterpillar hairs sting a human, these are gradually excreted. Allergic symptoms such as itching, nausea, blistering, or even stomach discomfort may occur in certain people.
Urticating caterpillar hairs sting, and people refer to this as a “caterpillar bite.” In South America, there is a venomous caterpillar species that is so poisonous that its bite has been known to kill people. You should therefore determine the type of caterpillar before handling one that appears to be strange.
Types of Stinging Caterpillars with Names and Pictures
Let’s take a closer look at how to differentiate between caterpillars that can sting and cause skin discomfort.
Stinging Rose Caterpillar
The Stinging Rose caterpillar (Parasa indetermina) has clusters of poisonous spikes along its body. An itchy, painful rash may be left behind after you brush up against this caterpillar. Clusters of vibrant yellow spines protruding from the body of this caterpillar are giveaways. Along its sides, front, and rear, it features prominent spiky horns.
Red-bodied larvae with purple or black stripes down their backs are found in certain species. Some have white and blue stripes, which are a kind of yellow caterpillar. Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and other Eastern coast states are home to the Stinging Rose caterpillars. Apple, hickory, oaks, and maples are among the foods they enjoy. The rose bush is the common name for these creatures because they prefer to eat them.
The Stinging Rose caterpillar has clusters of spiny horns covering its soft body and ranges in color from yellow to green to red.
Io Moth Caterpillar
When the venom from the Io moth caterpillar (Automeris io) enters your skin, it causes unpleasant green spikes. This green caterpillar begins life as an orange worm before turning lime green, and its spines contain poisonous chemicals that cause severe skin irritation.
The red and white stripes that run the length of this species’ side may be used to identify it. Around the body of this plant, green spikes protrude. The four pairs of prolegs in its center segments even feature tiny spikes. If the venom gets into your skin, the urticating spines may give you a painful “bite.” Even just a little bit of these stinging caterpillars can cause pain that lasts for an hour or more.
This caterpillar is dangerous because of its protruding light green spines that cover a green body.
Spiny Elm Caterpillar
The caterpillar’s black spines contain a poisonous substance that may cause skin irritation. These Nymphalidae caterpillars can reach a length of up to 2 inches (5 cm). The lovely Mourning Cloak butterfly emerges from this caterpillar. The row of bright red or orange dots on the back of these stinging caterpillars may help you identify them.
A jet-black line seems to connect the dots up the back, running up the spine. Clusters of white freckles cover the black parts of the body. In addition, the prolegs are crimson. Sharp-looking black spines protruding from the caterpillar’s body cause it to sting. Little white bristles surround them on all sides.
A lengthy black-and-white caterpillar with crimson dots and a spiky fuzzy look.
White Flannel Moth Caterpillar
The White Flannel caterpillar (Norape ovina) has venomous spines that may sting you painfully. Long wispy hairs and stinging spines cover these multi-colored caterpillars. Black, yellow, and brown caterpillars may be seen. Its central sections are striped with a broad black stripe, and the tips are brown. The caterpillar has a spotted appearance with rows of yellow dots surrounding each segment.
White Flannel moths have venomous spines that may sting severely. Inflammation and discomfort may last for many days, resulting in allergic responses, on certain individuals. From Washington, DC to Texas, Arizona, and Florida to Mexico and South America, these caterpillars can be found anywhere.
Look out for a caterpillar with yellow dots on its back that looks black.
Southern Flannel Moth (Asp) Caterpillar
The Southern Flannel caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) has sharp poisonous spines that are hidden by its hairs. Puss moth, woolly slug, or Italian asp are all terms used to describe this caterpillar. The fact that they resemble little Persian cats gave them the moniker of ‘puss caterpillar.’ This species is also known as ‘asp’ caterpillars because of the excruciating bite that they inflict.
Gray-white to dark brown, with a black tint, are some of the colors they may be. These fuzzy caterpillars are mostly located in Southern states, but their looks are deceptive. They may seem soft, but they’re not. Sharp stinging poisonous spines that may cause agony if they prick you are hidden by the delicate fluffy hairs. Because of their painful sting, these furry caterpillars are considered harmful insects.
A velvety mound of hair with a long tail that may reach up to an inch (2.5 cm) in length.
White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar
The White-Marked Tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia leucostygma) has fuzzy hairs that can cause skin irritation or a rash. Caterpillars with vivid colors of black, yellow, red, and white. Black and yellow stripes run the length of the segmented caterpillar’s body. It has four white tufts of hair and red dots on its body.
The long hair pencils on each end of the White-Marked Tussock caterpillar are one of its features. Red defensive glands with black long tails are located on the rear end, and they are prominent. A dark brown hair pencil, pointed upward at a 45-degree angle, is on the opposite end. The fine hairs (known as setae) of this caterpillar may cause skin irritation or allergic symptoms, even if it does not sting. Apple, cherry, elm, spruce, rose, and chestnut tree leaves are among the foods they consume.
These bright-colored, oddly arranged tufts of hairs give these caterpillars an exotic appearance as they grow to around 1.3″ (3.5 cm).
The Saddleback caterpillar has sharp spiky poisonous horns that hurt when touched, causing a gnawing discomfort to both predators and humans. The Saddleback has spiky horns that sting and belongs to the Limacodidae family of slug-like caterpillars.
The Saddleback has a saddle-like pattern on its back that distinguishes it from other species. A large brown dot in the center of this square green patch. Two white dots resembling vicious eyes are located near the caterpillar’s end.
The urticating spines on the Saddlebacks’ horns and remainder of their bodies are what produce the sting. A stinging sensation may cause a rash and consequently nausea when Venom-filled hairs are touched. When gardening, you may come across these unusual caterpillars, so treat them with caution.
This an easy caterpillar to identify because of its spiky horns at both ends, a saddle design on its back, and tufts of spines along its side.
Crowned Slug Caterpillar
The Crowned slug caterpillar (Isa textula) resembles a flattened leaf in the same family as the Saddleback. It features stinging spines on its sides. The green form of a crowned slug caterpillar is nearly spherical. The larvae’s stinging spines protrude outside of the body. The head end of these spines is brighter and may be a rich red rusty color.
At the tail end, they eventually turn white or beige. A raised ridge in the middle of the caterpillar indicates that it is not completely flat, despite its flattened shape. The green body of this ridge is marked with two yellow lines. This caterpillar has yellow and red dots all over it.
A large spine-studded caterpillar with a flattened appearance.
Spiny Oak Slug Caterpillar
The Spiny Oak Slug Caterpillar (Euclea delphinii) has venomous spurs all over its body. The venomous spikes of this brilliant colorful hairless caterpillar are everywhere. The Spiny Oak slug has a flattening appearance with several intriguing patterning designs on its back. Yellow, brown, green, and orange hues adorn these stinging insects.
Two orange stripes run up the back of the shirt. Lime-green patterns in circular patterns run down the sides of these. The stinging part of this caterpillar is the tufts of poisonous spines protruding from the sides. Venomous horns, as well as venomous serrated blades, are found on both ends. It has a spiky appearance and vivid hues that signal to humans and predators not to approach.
This caterpillar has identification characteristics including bright green and orange hues, a somewhat spherical form, and spiky yellow horns.
Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar
The Smeared Dagger caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita) has poisonous spine tufts all over its body. The spine tufts protrude from the body of these giant caterpillars, which are vivid in hue. A black and yellow caterpillar variety is the Smeared Dagger moth caterpillar.
Tufts of grayish-white or brown spines protruding from black and white stripes that wrap around the caterpillar’s body identify it. Your skin might have itchy hives after a light brush against these stinging caterpillars. From Canada to Indiana, Texas, and Florida, they may be found.
Buck Moth Caterpillars
The larvae of the Buck moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia) are among the most venomous stinging caterpillars you’ll encounter. There are jagged black spines protruding from all sides of this caterpillar, despite the fact that it isn’t a colorful one. These sting caterpillars may grow to be 2.5 inches (6.5 centimeters) in length.
Oak trees are the primary food of buck moth caterpillars. They may quickly destroy vegetation if they feed in vast numbers. All of the hollow spines release poisonous venom that causes a painful “bite” when they break off in your skin. They may cause extremely severe burning sensations under the skin, even though it isn’t enough to kill a person. In regions with a lot of oaks, these caterpillars are most common. Louisiana and Virginia are the states most commonly affected.
Most species have faint white markings, tufts of spines, and jaggy venomous horns that differentiate them. They are predominantly black or dark brown in color.
Monkey Slug Caterpillar
The Monkey slug caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) has hairs that may cause skin irritation. This brown caterpillar resembles a squished hairy spider and has hairy arms that appear to be crushed. This caterpillar’s stinging hairs might irritate your skin. A Monkey slug caterpillar may cause an allergic skin response in certain persons.
Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar
The Giant Leopard caterpillar (Hypercompe scribonia) is a red-marked fuzzy black caterpillar with stiff spines that are not venomous. Because of their thick-looking coat, these larvae are classified as woolly bear caterpillars. Red bands between the segments of a Giant Leopard caterpillar are one of the features that may be used to identify it.
When the big caterpillar rolls up or moves, these are frequently visible. These huge moth caterpillars don’t have urticating spines, unlike most types of stinging caterpillars. The stiff spines that can prick the skin cause the pain from the sting.
Variable Oak Leaf Caterpillar
When it is threatened, the Variable Oak Leaf caterpillar spits out acid; it is therefore dangerous. These caterpillars have brown, white, and yellow patterns on their bodies and are generally long yellowish-beige caterpillars. An oak leaf may be mistaken with certain brown designs. The back and side are both lined with white lines. White and black stripes run down the unusually-shaped head.
This species has few short spines and is not a stinging caterpillar, therefore it isn’t dangerous. The crawling caterpillar, on the other hand, may spit out acid when it is threatened. Care must be exercised. This may cause a prickling or burning skin feeling similar to that of being stung or bitten. The caterpillars that spit on trees adore deciduous trees, and oak is their favorite.
South American Caterpillar
The Giant Silkworm moth or South American Caterpillar (Lonomia obliqua) is one of the most poisonous and hazardous caterpillars in the world. These larvae may reach a length of 2 inches (5.5 cm) and are green or brown in color. Urticating spines cover their bodies, and the poison in them is potentially deadly. In Brazil, deaths caused by these venomous caterpillars have been reported.
The Lonomia obliqua and the Lonomia achelous species are the only two that are dangerous enough to cause death, despite the fact that many caterpillars in the genus are stinging caterpillars. Only Central and South American countries are home to these caterpillars.
Because of the highly toxic venom contained in its spines, this caterpillar is considered the most dangerous on Earth. It has rows of tubercles with spines of various sizes and is approximately 2 inches (4.5 to 5.5 cm) long.
Hickory Tussock Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae)
The hickory tussock moth larva has black designs on its white back, and the rash-causing tuffs of irritating hairs cover it. Long white pencil hairs at either end, bands of black dots running across a white body, and bothersome black tufts on the rear are all identifying characteristics of the worm-like caterpillar. Hickory tussock caterpillars can reach a size of 1.77″ (45 mm). Willow, pecan, hickory, and walnut trees are all susceptible to defoliation by caterpillars that feed in large groups.
The gobbling white and black caterpillars, on the other hand, seldom eat their way through a tree. Because of the microscopic, barbed spines that lodge in the skin, urticating tufts may cause skin irritation. The caterpillar isn’t poisonous, but its stinging spines produce skin symptoms that are similar to those produced by poisonous barbs, according to some sources.
The white body of the hickory tussock moth is covered in black dots, black tufts of hairs, and delicate-looking setae that distinguish it.
FAQ about Stinging Caterpillars
How long do caterpillar stings last?
A caterpillar sting may cause pain, swelling, and a burning sensation that lasts from an hour to several days. You should see a doctor if you experience allergic symptoms. It’s also critical to know what kind of caterpillar attacked you in order to describe it properly.
What do stinging caterpillars turn into?
Stinging caterpillars, like all caterpillars, transform into beautiful butterflies and moths when they mature.
What happens if you touch a fuzzy caterpillar?
The caterpillar species determines the time. Some caterpillars with horns or other such creatures are completely harmless. Urticating spines on other varieties of hairy caterpillars may cause irritation and release poison.
What should you do if you are stung by a caterpillar?
To get rid of the barbed spines or hairs, you may use some sticky tape. If you experience a severe reaction or an allergic reaction, you’re also advised to seek medical treatment.
Do hairy caterpillars bite?
Caterpillars do not bite people, despite having jaws to eat leaves and other insects. A caterpillar sting is what most people mean when they say “caterpillar bite.”