Caterpillars come out for Spring

Beware of stinging varieties and even those that don’t sting could cause problems

Caterpillars come out for Spring
The spring window is open for tons of these caterpillars around the region. (Source: Eric Griggs)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Longer days and more sunshine might top the list of spring positives, but the switch brings a few negatives as well. Along with pollen, termites and mosquitoes caterpillars may round out the bottom of the list.

Dr. Eric Griggs encountered a tiny invader. He said, “It was definitely a weird looking one. It had blond hair, orange eyes. It kind of almost looked like an alien.”

The creature made it a not so great week for the health educator. Griggs said, “I am not a caterpillar fan.”

A Live Oak Tussock Moth Caterpillar dropped in for a visit while he was standing next to his car parked under an oak tree. Griggs said, “It just felt like a wet piece of like a cotton ball.” Swiping the fuzzy creature to the ground wasn’t the end of this connection.

“Everything just started to swell in that area,” according to Griggs. He said, “It got red and inflamed and it started to itch and it started to hurt.”

Zack Lemann is the curator at Audubon Butterfly Gardens and Insectarium. He said, “Those are a really common nonstinging caterpillar.” The Live Oak Tussock technically doesn’t sting.

While the Live Oak Tussock Moth Caterpillar doesn't technically sting it's hairs can cause irritation.
While the Live Oak Tussock Moth Caterpillar doesn't technically sting it's hairs can cause irritation. (Source: Eric Griggs)

Griggs said, “I have a very active and robust immune system and I’m feeling every bit of it right now.” While not a true sting that happens when a person pushes into a caterpillars spines releasing venom, this caterpillar can cause skin irritation.

Lemann said, “We have probably two or three thousand types of caterpillars that become butterflies or moths here in Louisiana.”

Only four varieties found in this area truly sting. The Pus Moth Caterpillar is the worse. “Some people describe it as a mullet because it has short hairs in the front and sort of long tapering hairs in the back,” said Lemann. He said, “Pus Moth Caterpillars have a component in their venom that makes their sting much more painful than the other three types of caterpillars we’ve been talking about.”

The Pus Moth Caterpillar has the most painful sting.
The Pus Moth Caterpillar has the most painful sting. (Source: Audubon Insectarium)

The Buck Moth with its dark spines and green and yellow speckled body is the most well-known. “The good news is there’s only one generation of Buck Moth Caterpillars per year so we deal with them March, April and May.

The others can produce up to five generations so keep your eyes open through October.

Lemann said, “A lot of people love butterflies and don’t like caterpillars and you simply don’t get one without the others.”

Lemann says they are hard to avoid because of they move slow and camouflage well, although they can be painful don’t usually have lasting effects.

Griggs said, “Take your allergy medications, your antihistamines if you are allergic. Always carry an epi pen.” In case you have a bad reaction to a little package that can pack a big punch.

Lemann said, “If you have them in your garden, I always like to advocate a live and let live policy. It’s very rare you will have so many of these things that they will kill a plant. They may strip it of leaves, but the plant will recover. It’s nice to have those adults around so help them out by letting the caterpillars thrive too.”

Copyright 2021 WVUE. All rights reserved.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include title of story.