Doctors warn of venomous caterpillars as spring weather arrives

Doctors warn of venomous caterpillars as spring weather arrives

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Springtime is here. Many of you may be in your yard gardening or have children who often play outside.

While you’re outdoors, you may need to be on the lookout for some tiny yet dangerous creatures. WTOC spoke to the Chatham County Extension Office as well as doctors on Wednesday about venomous caterpillars in our area.

Tim Davis, Chatham County Extension Coordinator, says there are about five or six species of venomous caterpillars in our area. He says the ones to watch out for are usually hairy.

“The way they sting, they have what they call urticating hairs, or hairs that have venom with it. When you stroke it, those hairs break off and inject the venom into your skin," Davis said.

Davis says most of the stings are caused from children picking up a fuzzy caterpillar thinking it is harmless, or from someone rubbing up against plant life while they are outside.

“If you get stung by a yellow jacket or a honey bee, that tends to hurt in a small area. What happens with caterpillars, because you tend to scrape it when you are reaching for something, it may be over a larger area. It does burn and it is fairly painful. Most people will recover with no real treatment or anything like that."

Dr. Tom McKee at Memorial Health says they don’t really see many people put in the hospital from caterpillar stings, but the pain can be bad.

“A few species are really toxic in the sense that they would send someone to the emergency room, but some of those cause extreme pain. It’s been likened by some victims that it’s as bad as a snake bite as far as the pain goes," Dr. McKee said.

He says the best indicator of the sting is a print the insect leaves behind.

“Often, they develop a caterpillar print. It’s little spots that inject the skin," he said.

Davis says the caterpillars do have seasons when they are out. The puss caterpillar for instance is around in the early summer and late fall. Once the caterpillars turn into a moth, Davis says they are no longer venomous.

​Davis says these caterpillars aren’t really a huge concern. He says we are more likely to come in contact with a tick, yellow jacket, or mosquito that is carrying a virus before we come in contact with a venomous caterpillar.

Doctors at Memorial Health let us in on a little trick. If you are stung, take a piece of strong tape and put it over the sting and peel it off. That can help remove any of the stinging hairs left behind that you may not can see.

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