No joke, Parents! Some caterpillars and their cocoons have hairs that irritate skin, making it either itchy or painful, or both.
When I went into the Peace Corps to Honduras, I did not belief local residents who told me that some caterpillar down there gave a nasty sting – that is, until my last week in country when I got stung when I accidentally touched one on a coffee tree.
Well, if I hadn’t believed that caterpillars could sting in a tropical country, I definitely didn’t believe that they could cause a problem in temperate zones, but at least one caterpillar here in the northeastern United States does: the tussock moth caterpillar.
The black hairs of the tussock moth caterpillar can be irritating to some people, though not necessarily to all, so nature-goer beware! Look at this beautiful caterpillar, but leave her be!
Interestingly, the cocoon of the tussock moth caterpillar can also be irritating to a person’s skin, which my son found out today.
I didn’t see exactly what he did, but I believe that he did hold the cocoon in his hand, and then, when it began to bother his skin, he dropped it and lifted up his shirt to rub his hand on his belly. My son is two but very tough, so I found it very disturbing when he kept complaining of a pain in his hand and on his belly. So, I took him inside to change him (a common method I used to use whenever I had a screaming infant that I couldn’t soothe), and even naked he complained of it, so I threw him in the tub. This still didn’t seem to do the trick, so after I dried him and dressed him, I grabbed the iPad and bent my eye towards the handy internet before opting to call the hospital, because that was going to be my next step since his behavior was so odd.
I know that not all info on the internet is trustworthy, but luckily, I found some useful info that stated that the hairs of the caterpillar can get caught in the cocoon when it makes it, and thus the cocoon can cause skin irritation too. A few sources suggested just taking some packing tape and putting that on the affected area to pull out the hairs. Since this was a totally non-toxic method, I gave it a try and my son was instantly soothed and went off with no other hitch and nary a word the rest of the day of that which had caused him so much distress.
So parents beware: maybe you should have your child leave that neat, fuzzy caterpillar alone until you can identify it, and leave the cocoons where they are too!
As a side note: the caterpillars in Honduras probably did not sting, but rather they probably also had hairs that caused skin-irritations as well. Unfortunately for residents there, caterpillars were more populous all year long, and there were most probably more species that possessed hairs that caused irritations because it was a tropical country.
Share your thoughts: Do you know of any other caterpillars that are likely to cause skin-irritations or some other problem? If you do, please include their whereabouts (aka: range).