Stinging Caterpillars

Stinging caterpillars are common in late summer and early fall. Skin contact with them may produce a range of symptoms:

  • Numbness
  • Reddening and inflammation
  • Intense burning
  • Severe pain
  • Pustules and other lesions.

Pain, occasionally accompanied by nausea and headaches, may last for 12 hours or more. In some cases, victims go into shock and require medical attention. Anyone exposed to stinging caterpillars should be watched for signs of shock.  Signs of shock may include one or more of the following:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting.
Figure 1. Puss caterpillar (Photo: Lee Townsend)

Figure 1. Puss caterpillar (Photo: Lee Townsend)

First Aid Treatments

There are several first aid-type treatment suggestions but none seem to consistently and quickly relieve pain. One often successful strategy consists of applying tape to the contact site and pulling it off to remove (strip) spines from the skin. Other remedies include applying ice packs, baking soda, hydrocortisone cream, or calamine lotion.


By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist


Posted in Human Pests