Warning about 'io' moth caterpillar stings

Warning about io moth caterpillar stings
Published: Jul. 31, 2013 at 1:18 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2013 at 1:50 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - If the summertime has you spending more time outdoors, heed this warning: there is a common caterpillar crawling around vegetation with a sting that stopped one Lake Charles man in his tracks.

Brian Hirsch Sr. has become very familiar with the green, creepy, crawly critters known as "io moth caterpillars." "There's some little bundles down underneath," said Hirsch as he picks up the branch of a crape myrtle in his yard.

Those little bundles pack a big sting. "It hurt bad," said Hirsch, "it wasn't just like a bee sting. It was excruciating."

That excruciating pain was from just one of the caterpillars, camouflaged in the branches of Hirsch's crape myrtle. "They blend in perfectly with the leaves, plus they kind of sneak along the branch," he said.

You do not have to have an expert eye to see the damage that can be left behind with the leaves stripped off the branch. More often than not, that means caterpillars have been there. "They start at the base and they just go completely up, eating at every juncture," said Hirsch.

Daniel Chimeno with Greengate Garden Center says io moth caterpillars are not picky about the plants they choose to make home. "Anything that is going to have new, tender growth, that's going to be most susceptible," said Chimeno.

Hirsch is stunned at how quickly these stinging caterpillars multiply. "A small crape myrtle bush that two days ago didn't have one on it was covered in two days," he said, "it was unbelievable."

Hirsch is using his stinging experience to educate neighbors, even the school board and daycares about the risk these caterpillars pose.  He has handed out pictures and collected a jar full of caterpillars for reference. "I am showing them that this is what's out there and this is what happened and you might be interested in knowing that this can be avoided and this is what you look for," he said.

If you notice more than a few caterpillars eating your plants, it is time to spray. "You're going to want to look for something with either bifenthrin or permethrin," said Chimeno, "if it's something that is edible, you may want to go the route of BT, which is a bacteria that is going to help eliminate them."

Finally, look before you grab a branch! The caterpillars are pretty clever at blending in to their environments.

If you are stung by a caterpillar, use tape over the site of the sting to strip off spines and toxins. Then, wash the site with soap and water.

Gloves can offer you the protection you need outdoors from stings, pricks and scrapes.

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