Caterpillars are some of the most fascinating creatures and many are completely harmless. But others are equipped with a defense system that can cause serious harm.
Many of you have most likely picked up a caterpillar, or at least took a close look at one you spotted as a child. After all, they are cute little bugs that will turn into colorful butterflies or moths. But not all are as harmless as they seem.
Caterpillars are rich in protein, therefor many animals feed on them. For their survival it is necessary to have some form of protection. Often their appearance alone can be enough to repel a predator. They can look bigger than they are and more threatening. Or they can look similar to the food they eat, thus completely blending in with their surroundings. Some are even poisonous and their bright coloring gives away a warning to other animals. Then there are the ones that have taken on a more aggressive defense system. And those are the ones you need to stay away from.
Caterpillars with dangerous chemicals
The most dangerous caterpillar defenses are hair-like bristles that are loaded with venom. Species from about 12 families of butterflies and moths worldwide can inflict serious injuries that range from skin rashes to even death. One four-year-old boy from the UK found out the hard way.
After “accidentally touching a caterpillar” that he found on the doorstep, the boy became violently ill. His mother, Lauryn Mae Jordan, said that he began feeling sick during the night and continued the following day.
Her son, Beau, was extremely drowsy and his face looked puffy and swollen. Lauryn rushed him to the hospital.
“His eyes were really puffy,” she told the Plymouth Herald. “They just waited for him to go to the toilet as he hadn’t been drinking any fluids. It was during the night that I was worried.”
“I just thought maybe he had got a bug, it wasn’t until my daughter said ‘maybe it’s from the caterpillar that bit him yesterday’ that I thought about it,” she added. Lauryn believed that it was a toxic caterpillar known as Oak Processionary Moth.
Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar
It was easy for Lauryn to assume this moth caterpillar was responsible for Beau’s illness. This caterpillar has become a threat to Oak trees, animals, and humans in the UK.
The moth originates from Southern Europe but was accidentally introduced to Britain in 2005. They entered the UK as eggs that had been laid on live oak plants and imported from continental Europe.
The caterpillars have thousands of little, fine hair that contain a toxic chemical that can cause itching skin rashes, sore throats, breathing difficulties and eye problems. It is not necessary to touch the moths in order to have contact with the hairs. They shed their hairs as a defense mechanism and it can easily be picked up by the wind and spread.
Luckily for Beau, he didn’t need any treatment. According to Plymouth Herald, Beau spent a few hours in the hospital, but he has no memory of being sick.
As it turns out, Beau’s mother was mistaken about the identity of the caterpillar.
Steve Ogden, from Wildlife Insight, said the caterpillar might have been a four-spotted footman
“Some people seem to have more sensitive skin than others, particularly children, so to be on the safe side it’s always best to avoid direct skin contact with any hairy caterpillar,” Steve Ogden warned.
Caterpillars to stay away from in America
Venomous caterpillars are not just a worry across the European borders. Different species equipped with harmful chemicals live all over the world. These are the ones people across America should be careful to be around. YOu might also like to see the tiniest animals from across the world.
Io Moth Caterpillar
The Io Moth caterpillar turns into a colorful moth and used to live all across North America. With the exception of Cape Cod and Massachusetts islands it is not that common anymore in New England. Also the Gulf states are seeing fewer of them.
While very attractive, these moths pack a very painful sting. The hairs contain tiny spines that can lodge into your skin. Should you get stung by its hairs, it is recommended to cover the area with some tape and then pull it off. Any hairs stuck in your skin will be pulled out by the tape. After, you should wash the area with soap and water.
This caterpillars home is largely in the Eastern US. Once grown, it turns into the slug moth. You can tell by its bright color pattern and the presence of spines that its sting is going to hurt. All of its spines are capable to break away and become stuck with whatever contact they have.
The venom will break down the red blood cells, form blisters and cause tissue damage.
Bag Shelter Caterpillar
These cute little things are not called “itchy grubs” for nothing. Their tiny hairs will cause irritation when they come in contact with the skin. They can also stop your blood from clotting, leading to a life-threatening hemorrhage. In Brazil and Venezuela they are considered a health problem.
Hickory Tussock Caterpillar
Native throughout Eastern North America this moth caterpillar will cause an allergic reaction due to contact with its hairs. The itchy rash can be moderate to severe, but usually the effects of the chemical can be reduced through washing of the area with soap and water. After washing you should apply ice.
Some people might be hypersensitive to the venom and develop severe swelling and nausea in addition to the rash. In this case medical attention should be sought after as soon as possible.
You shouldn’t be fooled by the cute, fluffy appearance of the puss. Native to Eastern and Central US this cutey can cause excruciating pain when in contact with its spiked hairs. The pain is so bad, it can make your bones hurt.
Here again, a piece of tape can help to pull the hair out of your skin. Wash the venom off right away and apply ice to the area. Should any signs of allergic reactions appear seek medical assistance.
Brown Tailed Moth Caterpillar
In the Eastern US this insect is of great health concern for both forests and humans. Its hairs cause dermatitis that is similar to contact with poison ivy. Just being in the same area with the caterpillars poses a risk. The hairs become dislodged from both, living and dead caterpillars, where they are carried and spread by the wind. Inhaling the hairs can cause respiratory distress that is quite serious.
You can encounter caterpillars on a hike through Nature, or in your own yard. Most of them are harmless, but it’s always best to be informed before you want to inspect one close up. You should also teach your children about safety precautions when it comes to encounter animals and insects you are unsure about. This way your experiences with the outdoors can remain joyful, instead of becoming a painful memory.
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