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Stinging Caterpillar

Urticating Caterpillars

Urticating caterpillars are moth larvae that have hollow spines containing an irritating fluid that produces stinging and burning in human skin. In Georgia, urticating caterpillars show up in the late summer and autumn.

Saddleback Caterpillar (Sibine stimulea)

Saddleback CaterpillarThe saddleback is the most commonly encountered stinging caterpillar in Georgia. The full-grown caterpillar is about 1 inch long, with pairs of dark brown spiny "horns" on the front and rear ends. The middle of the body is green with a white or cream margin, and a large oval dark brown spot in the center, also with a white margin. The appearance is that of a saddle and blanket, thus the common name. Small clumps of spines occur in a row along the lower margin of the green area and at the rear of the caterpillar.

The saddleback is generally a solitary feeder; however, early stage larvae may be somewhat gregarious. The caterpillar occurs on a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and other plants, including corn. They are most common on oaks, elms, dogwoods, and various fruit trees. People are most likely to bump into saddleback caterpillars in late summer and fall.

The saddleback's sting produces an immediate burning sensation, followed by inflammation, swelling, and a red rash.

Puss CaterpillarPuss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)

The puss caterpillar is hairy, over an inch long, with short toxic spines hidden underneath brown or gray fur. The hairs at the posterior end form a tail-like tuft, while the head is tucked under the front. When skin brushes against the caterpillar, the spines break off, releasing irritating fluid that produces an immediate stinging sensation.

Puss caterpillars feed on oaks, pecans, persimmon, fruit trees, roses, and other trees and shrubs. They typically occur singly, although several may occur on a given tree.

The puss caterpillar causes the most painful and severe reaction of any urticating species in the United States. The initial burning sensation is followed by numbness and swelling, which may extend to the entire extremity in severe cases. Red blotches may persist for a couple of days, accompanied by a weeping rash. Associated lymph nodes (axillary, in the case of injury to hand or arm) may swell and be tender, persisting for 12 to 24 hours. Systemic reactions may include nausea and vomiting.

Treatment of Urticating Caterpillar Symptoms

People gardening, mowing lawns, picking fruit, or working in other situations where they might brush against urticating caterpillars should wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and gloves. If stung, the individual should treat symptomatically. To remove any spines still in the skin, a piece of adhesive tape can be gently stuck to the site, then pulled away. Application of cold compresses can lessen pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain medications may be indicated, along with topical hydrocortisone cream. A physician should be contacted if systemic reactions or other symptoms of concern develop. Symptoms typically resolve within a couple of days.


Cooperative Extension Coordinator:

Kim Riley
1262 Government Circle
Jonesboro, GA 30236
Phone: (770) 473-3945
Fax: (770) 473-5438