Beware the stinging caterpillar

August 12, 2013

Question: Do we have stinging caterpillars in Sampson County?

Answer: Sampson County is home for stinging caterpillars. Have you ever heard the saying “looks can be deceiving”? This applies to stinging caterpillars. Just because they may have a cute, fuzzy or bright colored look, they may hide a painful surprise if handled carelessly.

There are three groups of stinging caterpillars and they are Puss Caterpillars, Slug Caterpillars, and Giant Silkworm Moths. The Puss Caterpillar is covered with dense brown hairs that conceal a stinger. Slug caterpillars vary in appearance. Their bodies have long fleshy lobes covered with hairs or colorful triangular projections. The most common slug caterpillar is the saddleback, which is distinctive with a charcoal grey body and a lime green saddle appearance across its back. The Io moth larva is the largest stinging caterpillar. When mature they can measure up to 2.5 inches in length. They are lime-green in color with bright horn-like spines and four rows of the unpopular stinging hairs.

Stinging caterpillars can harm humans. They use their defense mechanisms against predators. If stung by one of these types of caterpillars you may experience a painful burning sensation and inflammation. Most stings occur from careless handling or brushing against plants while working in they yard. If you encounter them observe from a distance to avoid being stung. Due to the fact that these caterpillars are found in low numbers there is no need for chemical treatment. However, if you find large populations follow insecticide recommendations for leaf-feeding caterpillars. They are considered solitary feeders on a variety of shrubs and trees. Specifically, the saddleback is known for feeding on garden crops including corn. They only have one to two generations each year and they molt into brown moths.

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Reminder: If you would like to learn more about Horticultural related topics, then join the “Sampson County Friends of Horticulture”. This program offers monthly “How To” Horticultural Seminars. Please call 910-592-7161 for more information. Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at 910-592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at for any questions you may have.