poisonous caterpillars in alabama

Beware! 7 Most Poisonous Caterpillars In Alabama

Caterpillars are one of a butterfly or moth life stages before metamorphosing into beautiful winged creatures. They generally live on the leaves and feed on the foliage to thrive. Well, it is also applied in Alabama! Despite having a unique and lovely appearance, there are some poisonous caterpillars in Alabama you should avoid touching. They have a venom that, when stung, will leave a painful mark. You don’t want that to happen, do you?

Therefore, we compile a list of poisonous caterpillars in Alabama to help you find out the types of venomous caterpillars in your surroundings. The Alabama caterpillar identification, which will provide some key characteristics, is also available here.

Moreover, we offer quick remedy tips to overcome the sting of caterpillars just in case you have already touched them. So, without any further ado, let’s read this article then. Don’t skip a bit!

How can you tell if a caterpillar is venomous?

You may find bright-colored caterpillars exciting as they have eye-catching colors, such as green, yellow, orange, and even red and white markings. However, these wonderful features are the specific hallmarks of poisonous caterpillars in Alabama. Although not all venomous caterpillars have these colors, you must be cautious when finding one with such a characteristic in your garden. Don’t you dare to touch them if you are concerned about how to identify them!

Moreover, Buck Moth caterpillar, Io Moth caterpillar, and Monkey Slug caterpillar can trick you with their darker colors. The dark bodies make it easier for them to camouflage with their surroundings. Also, they will make you think that they are less harmful. In fact, they can deliver a painful sting. Ouch!

Another unique mark you can observe from the stinging caterpillars is the urticating hairs spread all over their body. These hairs are connected to the glands hiding toxic compounds, which will later be injected and released into the skin when you touch them. The sensation you will generally feel when the sting occurs varies, ranging from a small pinch, itching, reddening, and blistering of the skin to causing gastrointestinal and respiratory issues.

To avoid such an event, we have provided eight species of stinging and poisonous caterpillars in Alabama that you need to be aware of and their respective characteristics. If you find them, don’t try to touch them if you don’t want to end up with a painful sting. Alright, check them out!

Dangerous Caterpillar in Alabama

Even though venomous caterpillars don’t have the deadly toxins, they still can cause mild sting reactions. Moreover, the sting can last for about 12 hours or more. In some cases, the sting symptoms can become more severe, causing shortness of breath and indigestion.

Hence, broadening your insight into Alabama’s dangerous caterpillar identification is crucial to avoiding agonizing wounds. Let’s find out!

1. Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)

Let’s start the list with Hemileuca maia, more popular as the Buck Moth caterpillar. As its name bears, this insect is in the penultimate phase before turning into a moth. Depending on the gender, the male caterpillar is blackish with a touch of brick red stripes at the tail end and white hairs (more like dots) on the abdomen.

poisonous caterpillars in alabama
Hemileuca Maia

Meanwhile, the females have darker hair. They are usually easy to find on the foliage of oak trees and willows as they feast on the leaves.

But don’t get fooled by their attractive appeal because the sting can be excruciating. The Buck Moth caterpillar has glands that synthesize toxins and are connected to their hairs. If you accidentally touch them, the spines will break off.

At the same time, the venom will be injected into your skin, causing instant stinging, itching, and burning sensations to your skin. It also leads to swelling in the sting area. These terrible symptoms, sadly, can last up to two days.

2. Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io)

This caterpillar looks cute! It has a bright green color with red and white stripes on the lower body, making it more captivating. However, it is not as lovely as it seems because Io Moths belong to the most common stinging caterpillars in Alabama you must be aware of!

Like Buck Moth, this venomous caterpillar stings your skin because it contains toxins in the lime green spines. Even with the most delicate touch on the body, you will immediately experience a burning sensation with itching that occurs afterward.

poisonous caterpillars in alabama
Automeris Io

In addition to knowing their characteristics to help you identify the poisonous insects, you also need to understand their habitat. Io Moth caterpillars prefer to live in deciduous forests and gardens where there are willows, maples, and elms trees whose leaves are their favorite to eat. They also thrive on grasses, conifers, and shrubs while also making them an alternative source of food.

In addition, the fun fact is that adult moths do not eat as the mouth parts are reduced in size.

3. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar (Euchaetes egle)

You can tell by its name that this caterpillar resides on the milkweed plants. Not only as the host, but the milkweed is also a primary food source for the insect.

Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar or Euchaetes egle is a type of poisonous caterpillar in Alabama bearing the characteristics of fluffy hairs with a combination of black, white, and a little orange on the back. Despite looking fat, they are pretty thin compared to other poisonous caterpillars on the list. It’s just the thick hair that camouflages the body.

poisonous caterpillars in alabama
Euchaetes Egle

Unlike most stinging caterpillars you find in Alabama, the Milkweed Tussock does not produce the toxic chemical itself. Instead, they store it from their host in their body.

Milkweed contains cardiac glycoside that is beneficial for the poisonous insect as a defense system from enemies. The Blue Jays can successfully make them vomit once they consume the caterpillar. Meanwhile, the hair will lead to an extremely itchy rush to the human skin.

4. Monkey Slug Caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium)

When viewed from a bird-eye point of view, the shape of the Monkey Slug caterpillar or Hag caterpillar is similar to a starfish or spider, only with eight “hand” segments. His body was covered with tan-brown hair stinging with weirdly black patterns forming a monkey face.

poisonous caterpillars in alabama
Phobetron Pithecium

And instead of creeping, they seem to walk like slugs. With such unique characteristics, you can easily identify this Monkey Slug Caterpillar when you spot them on woody trees, such as apples, chestnuts, dogwoods, birches, or oak trees.

Furthermore, there is conflicting information on whether this caterpillar is stinging. However, some reports say that direct contact with the follicles causes itching, burning, redness, and swelling in the contact area. This is because the glands produce poisonous chemicals under the stinging hairs.

In addition, allergy reactions may occur if you have a previous history of allergies. This chance, nonetheless, is pretty low.

5. Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)

Megalopyge opercularis or Puss Caterpillar (also called asp caterpillars) occupies the top position as the most poisonous caterpillars. It has soft white hairs and a pale brown touch that looks like a bundle of woolen yarn.

They glide like a slug on the oak and elm trees, where they also feed on the foliage. Hence, the combination of these two distinctive characteristics makes it referred to woolly slug.

Megalopyge Opercularis
Megalopyge Opercularis

But beware! Behind their beautiful appearance, they store toxins that make it painful when you get stung by them. They have spines covered with fluffy hairs where that part of the body produces toxins. Once you are stung, the poison will be transferred quickly to your skin, leaving you with extreme pain for 1-5 days.

Even though the sting is slight, the pain can spread to the entire hand within five minutes! Some more advanced symptoms besides an itchy and burning sensation are nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal cramping.

6. Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea)

There is a reason why Acharia stimulea is better known by the popular name of the Saddleback caterpillar. It highlights a bright green color blanket on the back with a round brown stamp, forming a saddle-like pattern.

Meanwhile, his head seems to have two horns that act like the handle of a bicycle steering wheel. No wonder people can easily recognize them because of their unique and interesting features. In addition, they can live on various types of trees and shrubs, such as asters, blueberries, sunflowers, hibiscus, maples, elms, and oaks.

Acharia Stimulea
Acharia Stimulea

Considering its awful sting, you cannot touch them! All parts of the insect’s body have poison that makes it painful when stung, especially the horn-like hairs. Besides being painful, this sting also causes itching and swelling of the affected skin area. These symptoms will be followed by nausea in the first few hours, while the rash may last one or two days.

You can reduce the pain by removing the hairs from the skin with duct tape, washing them thoroughly with soap, then applying alcohol. After that, give a cream like a low-strength steroid.

7. White Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Norape ovina)

The appearance of the White Flannel Moth caterpillar or Norape one looks very artistic. The body is black with regular white and yellow dots. Moreover, the head and tail-end feature a bright red to an orange shade, striking above the leaves.

Meanwhile, the emerging long hairs are seen adorning his entire body. Moreover, this beautiful caterpillar inhabits redbud, hackberry, and honey locust trees, making it a precious food source.

Norape Ovina
Source: Pinterest (@walterreeves.com)

However, don’t try to touch this venomous caterpillar because the impending hairs can sting you as soon as you make contact. You will feel severe stinging, itching, and burning on your skin for around 40 minutes. In addition, the sting marks will also swell with a reddish color. However, the irritation and rash will generally persist for one to two days after the sting.

How to treat a caterpillar sting?

As we previously discussed, poisonous caterpillars usually feature vibrant colors. No wonder these delicate critters attract children to play with. With that being said, they also fall victim to the most common venomous insects. But don’t panic if it happens to them (or to you!). Luckily, you can handle it using quick home remedies as the first aid to caterpillar stings. What are the tips?

  1. Remove the urticating hairs. These hairs contain toxins that cause irritating reactions on the skin, such as itching, redness, and heat. Apply the tape on the stung skin, then carefully pull it off.
  2. Wash the stung area with soap. You can do it under running tap water and soap it gently so it doesn’t hurt too much.
  3. Put an ice bag on the affected skin. This applies just in case the sting is swollen and hurts too much. Do it for around 10-15 minutes.
  4. Make a baking soda paste with water. It will reduce the itching, which will help you resist scratching.

In addition to the above first aid, you can also treat the stinging by applying low-strength steroid creams that are over the counter in the nearest drugstore. The steroid lotion will help you relieve the awful sting for a while.

Furthermore, an alternative steroid is hydrocortisone cream, which reduces pain. If these symptoms do not improve, take an antihistamine. Antihistamines work to relieve the symptoms of allergies, insect bites, and stings.


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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are lawn caterpillars poisonous?

Lawn caterpillars are generally not poisonous. They cannot sting anyone who touches them. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t get you in trouble. While many gardeners focus more on eradicating rats from their gardens, the caterpillars are often left behind.

In fact, these lawn caterpillars are the culprits behind the damaged lawns, as they heavily feed on them to survive. Two types of lawn caterpillars commonly appear in the yard in the summer to early fall: the sod webworm and the fall armyworm. Fortunately, you can get rid of them using insecticides.

What happens if you get stung by a hairy caterpillar?

You may feel a slight pinch on your skin when you first get a caterpillar sting. Then, slowly the feeling turns to itching and burning. The stung skin will leave a red color followed by swelling around it. In some severe cases, the welts will blister and experience shortness of breath. And worse, it will further develop into difficulty swallowing. If you experience these serious symptoms, rush to the hospital immediately for further treatment.

How long does a caterpillar sting last?

Stinging caterpillars will leave a painful sting on your skin for at least 12 hours, depending on the types and venomous caterpillars you are in contact with. Some of them, like a stinging rose caterpillar, may leave dire pain for days.

Several symptoms that may occur when the insects sting you are redness, pustules, skin inflammation, itchy, and severe burning sensation. Sadly, it can also get you into shock, followed by shortness of breath. In this case, you may need to be rushed to the emergency room.

Which green caterpillars are poisonous?

One of Alabama’s hallmarks of venomous caterpillars is their bright coloration, including green caterpillars. The Io Moth caterpillar (Automeris io) is the most common stinging caterpillar you should watch out for among the poisonous green caterpillars.

Its sting can cause pain equivalent to a bee sting, leaving you with redness and swollen marks that will last a few hours. Another what-so-called green caterpillar that will get you in trouble is the Saddleback caterpillar. Even worse, this insect sting causes a burning sensation of nausea.

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