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Ouch – that caterpillar stung me!

November 3, 2010

Some moth caterpillars have irritating hairs, and some hairs are even venomous. The Southeast Asian ‘nettle caterpillar’ (Parasa lepida, Limacodidae) cause an unbelievable pain. I accidentally touched one when demonstrating a Macaranga siamensis leaf. The pain disappeared without treatment. Apparently this larva feeds on a range of host plants.

Another perhaps lesser known stinging moth larva is the ‘stinging slug caterpillar ‘ (Thosea spp, Limacodidae). Ketsanee accidentally brushed her arm against a climbing ylang-ylang (Artabotrys siamensis, Annonaceae) and was severely stung. We applied cortisone and gave her Aerius antihistamine. The site of the burn was red and blistered. The hairs of such larvae break and inject venom. As stated by Professor Norris at Stanford University, the biochemical mechanisms of moth venoms are not well known.

A funny remark is that the word ‘caterpillar’ is derived from latin Cata Pilosa, i.e. a ‘hairy cat’.

The lesson is, check the leaves for hairy cats, or they will scratch and bite you!

Eric Danell

Stinging slug caterpillars (Thosea sp.) may occur in monsoon gardens.

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