Venomous caterpillar species can be found all over the United States. Some of the most commonly encountered species include tussock moth-caterpillars, flannel moth-caterpillars, saddleback moth-caterpillars, asp caterpillars and buckmoth caterpillars. Several venomous caterpillar species have been documented as inhabiting the Sonoran Desert region of southern Arizona, but buckmoth caterpillars are the most frequently encountered venomous caterpillar species in the state. These caterpillars possess numerous venomous “spines” that protrude from their body, and simply touching a specimen will cause these spines to become stuck in the skin where it continually releases venom. These spines are called “urticating hairs,” and they should only be removed from the skin with tape, as using fingers to pull out the hairs may squeeze more venom into the bloodstream, which intensifies the pain sensation. Unfortunately, these caterpillars often become abundant in residential yards where people often sustain stings while performing yard work.
Around 23 buckmoth caterpillar species have been documented in the southwest US, and these species are around 2 inches in length, and the exterior color of buckmoth caterpillars vary depending on the species. One of the most commonly encountered buckmoth caterpillar species in Arizona is named Hemileuca juno, and these caterpillars are often found grouped together on a variety of common tree species where they feed on leaves. It is not uncommon for buckmoth caterpillars to land on humans after falling from trees, and when this occurs, envenomation almost always results. Another buckmoth caterpillar species in the state, Hemileuca oliviae, dwells within grass where humans often sustain stings while walking. The venom of buckmoth caterpillars usually causes inflammatory dermatitis, and since the human body recognizes the venom as a foregin substance, allergic reactions sometimes result from stings. Most sting cases do not result in hospitalizations, but several cases of buckmoth caterpillar spines making contact with the eyes has resulted in serious medical consequences.
Do you believe that you have spotted a buckmoth caterpillar before?