There exists several potentially dangerous caterpillar species that dwell within Massachusetts. Some of these species include the white-hickory tussock caterpillar, the buck moth caterpillar and the puss caterpillar. All of these species can inflict medically significant stings to humans via their detachable hair fibers. Another common caterpillar that often stings humans in Massachusetts is the saddleback caterpillar. These caterpillars feed on a variety of different plants that are often found in backdoor gardens, including ornamental plants, fruits, grass, cabbage and oak trees. This makes the caterpillars particularly threatening to gardeners and landscapers, especially since they often dwell unseen on the underside of leaves. These insect larvae are often referred to as “landscape pests”. Saddleback caterpillars are also commonly found on objects and structures in people’s yards, such as bird-feeders, birdbaths, decks, patios and outdoor furniture.
The saddleback caterpillar is considered a yard pest, and it is rarely spotted indoors, but when they are, they usually maintain a presence on houseplants or on the underside of tables. These caterpillars are abundant in residential areas throughout the northeast where homeowners often sustain extremely painful and medically significant stings after unknowingly brushing against the insect’s hair fibers, and sometimes injuries are sustained when these caterpillars land on a person after falling from a tree. Saddleback caterpillars pose such a threat to residents of the northeastern states that entomologists from the University of Connecticut issued a warning to residents last August concerning the dangers that these insects pose. Pets and young children are especially vulnerable to dangerous Saddleback caterpillar stings, as children often touch the caterpillars out of curiosity.
The saddleback caterpillar’s hollow hair fibers, which are more accurately referred to as “urticating spines”, can become dislodged into human skin, allowing for a continuous flow of venom into the bloodstream. These stings can cause a medical condition known as “acute urticaria” which results in systemic symptoms such as migraines, gastrointestinal issues, asthma, anaphylactic shock, rupturing of red blood cells, and hemorrhaging.
Have you ever spotted a hairy-looking caterpillar within your backyard?