Friday, August 29, 2014

Poisoning by Caterpillar

As summer draws to a close, I got this question from a reader in Texas:
Is it possible to get sick from a caterpillar sting?

Hmm...caterpillars don't sting, not like wasps and bees or even ants. They transfer venom passively when the predator--or human--comes into contact with it. 
The puss caterpillar is the most poisonous caterpillar in the USA. It has dense “fur,” composed of hairs; hidden among these are hair-like hollow spines that deliver poison produced by glands.

Despite the appearance in the photos, it is only 1.3-1.5 inches long.

The caterpillars live primarily in the southern states, especially Texas. They appear twice a year, once in the late spring/early summer and again in late summer/early fall. Favored foods include broadleaf trees and shrubs.
Humans typically come in contact with the caterpillar by accident.

Symptoms of contact include intense pain, swelling, itching, and red blotches.
It’s not uncommon for the caterpillar to have multiple contact points, leading to several affected areas. More serious reactions include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and incapacitation. Death is unusual, but can happen with higher venom loads.

The best way to remove the spines from the skin is with cellophane/clear tape. Because of the risk of a serious reaction it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.

Thought for small children: Don't touch!

Questions? Comments?
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.
Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.

**Thanks to Auburn University for the photos.