By Darrell Blackwelder
For Farm Carolina
SALISBURY - Late summer is the time when many insects are at their peak, especially moths. There are more than 1,400 kinds of moths and butterflies in this area and the larvae are feeding ferociously before pupating for the upcoming winter.
Cooperative Extension has already received calls about both the puss caterpillar as well as the saddleback caterpillar. These caterpillars are prevalent in late summer and early fall. The rather odd appearance is often deceiving as these immatures deliver a very powerful sting. These two have stings that may warrant medical help, especially the very young, elderly or those with extreme allergies.
The puss caterpillar is often found on oaks but can also be found on other tree species such as plum, elm, apple, sycamore and rose. The puss caterpillar is up to one inch long with yellow to reddish brown or gray hair and is not found in large numbers. It gets its name from its furry feline appearance. A sting from this caterpillar usually delivers a burning pain and numbness with an aching pain and sometimes nausea that may last for hours. It is not uncommon for victims to spend time in the emergency room for treatment.
Another caterpillar that delivers a powerful sting is the saddleback caterpillar. The caterpillar is a very small, colorful caterpillar that is bluish-green with a brown or black spot in the middle of its back. The insect is often found inconspicuously on trees and ornamental shrubs around the home. Both the puss and saddleback caterpillar are found in small numbers, causing minimal damage to host plants.
These are just two caterpillars that are most noted for their unusual appearance and powerful stings.
Many other moth immatures will sting you. If you get stung by a poisonous caterpillar, immediately wash the affected area to remove any insect hairs and poison that remains.
An ice pack will help reduce swelling, and creams and lotions containing steroids will also lessen the discomfort and promote healing.
Those known to be sensitive to insect stings should consult a physician.
Stinging caterpillars rarely occur in sufficient numbers to be considered plant pests, but people who work outdoors in the gardens or landscapes should learn to recognize them and avoid touching them.
Go to http://forsyth.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/34/CES_Venomous_Caterpillars.pdf for more detailed information about these and other stinging caterpillars.
Darrell Blackwelder is the county extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970.