Dangerous caterpillars pack an excruciating sting

Published: Oct. 13, 2016 at 10:41 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2017 at 3:58 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - They are not a new phenomenon to wildlife experts, but they are to some people of Louisiana. Stinging Caterpillars are a new concern among people outdoors. These critters are not to be pushed, touched, or to be messed with because they do poke back. Literally.

Jeremy Burson, of New Orleans, was working last Wednesday when he suddenly felt an excruciating sting on his arm from a Puss Moth Caterpillar. It fell off a nearby tree and landed on his arm. He says he never felt it crawling on his arm. He just looked down and experienced what felt like another type of insect.

"All of a sudden, I have this stinging shooting pain," said Burson. "At first, I attributed it to a Bee or a Wasp sting. I thought I would be fine in 35-45 minutes. No big deal."

It's a one-inch insect that can cause so much pain. But why?

"It's just their defense mechanism," said Jamie Mihalcik, with the Greengate Garden Center. "They've got some sort of crystals on their back that is an irritant to the human skin."

Those crystals are actually hairs-  hollow bristles that have toxins from poisonous gland cells. Even when accidentally touched, the structure breaks and poison is released and as a result, leaves you with a trip to the hospital.

"I don't know what exactly particular tree they're attached to down there," said Burson.

Mihalcik says they don't host a specific plant.

"They do have a pretty broad range they can host on from Maples to Willows to Oaks."

This insect poison is nothing to be taken lightly as it can cause severe pain.

"The easiest way I can describe it would be like having a broken arm that had blister type burns on it," said Jeremy.

And if that didn't startle you enough...

"I've been stung by a jellyfish before," said Burson. "I can tell you that I will take numerous jellyfish stings before I would ever want to have another Puss Caterpillar sting."

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