Caterpillars eventually turn into moths and butterflies but before they do, some of the species are capable of causing harm and irritation to humans.
Kentucky has a few species of stinging caterpillars.
Stinging caterpillars possess quill-like hairs that are connected to poison sacs. When the hairs are touched, the poison is released. The poisonous spines can be found all over the caterpillar's body.
When a person brushes against a stinging caterpillar, they can experience a range of symptoms from mild to severe. These symptoms include itching, pain, swelling, blistering, dermatitis, and even some intestinal disturbances.
Two of the most commonly reported stinging caterpillars found in Central and Eastern Kentucky are the Black Wave Flannel Moth Caterpillar and the White Flannel Moth Caterpillar. The venomous spines of these caterpillars are hidden underneath their long, silky hairs. They can cause a painful sting and swelling that can last for days.
The Puss Caterpillar also belongs to the family of Flannel Moth Caterpillars. The sting from the Puss Caterpillar can be more severe than from other caterpillars.
Other stinging caterpillars in Kentucky include the Giant Silkworm Caterpillars and the Slug Caterpillars. The Silkworm Caterpillars are mainly found in the spring and summer seasons. The Buck Moth Caterpillar belongs to this family of caterpillars. The Buck Moth Caterpillars are characterized by branched black spines which have red or black tips.
Most of the stinging caterpillars are brightly colored or distinctly marked so you can easily avoid them.
However, if you do happen to brush across one of them, Kentucky entomologists recommend that a stick or other object be used to remove it instead of bare hands.