Most outdoor enthusiasts love to identify charming creepy crawlies in their space. Some of these creatures may sting to defend their nests or themselves from potential predators. Caterpillars are juvenile forms of butterflies and moths in the world of creepy crawlies.
These creepy creatures are rich in proteins making them an easy target for some animals as sources of food. But many have evolved body parts that produce poison to prevent them from being consumed and touched by humans or other predators.
Venomous caterpillars have a menacing appearance, sharp-looking spines, and bright colors. The sting can result in skin swelling, itchiness, redness, and a burning sensation. Most poisonous caterpillars do not attack humans or bite unless they feel threatened.
Identifying toxic caterpillar species may sound simple, but you need to know a thing or two and avoid touching them. This article provides a detailed insight into different types of venomous caterpillars with pictures and names.
How to Identify Venomous Caterpillars (Quick Tips)
Identifying poisonous caterpillars is vital since it helps to avoid handling them with unprotected hands. The sting might cause a severe skin reaction due to the venom content transmitted by the spines or spikes. (Source: National Library for Medicine). Here are quick tips for identifying venomous caterpillars:
Most poisonous caterpillars have captivating colors to attract humans or camouflage their habitats. But these bright colorings usually hide toxin-filled spines that can lodge into the skin to cause swelling, itchiness, and redness.
Venomous caterpillars have hairy bodies with threatening colorations. These tiny critters also come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. The menacing appearance helps scare away potential predators or as a defense mechanism.
Sharp-Looking Spine or Spikes
These caterpillar species have sharp-looking spines filled with venom that can lodge into the skin to cause redness, swelling, and itchiness. A small quantity of venom can also paralyze or kill tiny birds when consumed.
Different Types of Venomous Caterpillars with Pictures
Identifying and recognizing venomous caterpillars can be a daunting experience. Here is a list of poisonous caterpillars with their features and characteristics:
Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io)
The larval moth is a brightly colored type of green caterpillar covered in urticating spines. The caterpillar species can grow up to 2.7 inches long.
A juvenile io moth caterpillar is usually orange or reddish-brown before maturing into a large green one. The spiny tufts on the green body contain venom.
Io moth caterpillars at their final stars have conspicuous dark red and white bands along the abdomen. A mature lo caterpillar enters into the pupal stage before developing into a moth.
|Maximum Size||2.7 inches long|
|Appearance||Green body with red and creamy-white stripes along the abdomen.|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin itchiness, swelling, and redness|
|Identification Features||Green body with lateral abdominal red and white stripes. It also has reddish prolegs and spiky tufts containing toxins.|
Monarch Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus)
Monarch caterpillars love eating milkweed plants and storing the glycosides in their bodies. The content makes these caterpillars poisonous and can kill the birds that eat them.
These venomous caterpillars are common during the warm spring weather in meadows and undeveloped agricultural fields. Sometimes they can be found along the roads or ditches.
Monarch caterpillars have black bodies with bright stripes of white and yellow. A mature caterpillar can reach 2 inches long.
|Maximum Size||2 inches long|
|Appearance||Has a black body with white and yellow stripes|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin itchiness and redness|
|Identification Features||Have bright stripes of yellow and white on their black body.|
Bag-Shelter Moth (Ochrogaster Lunifer)
These caterpillars have grey bodies with spiny hairs and brown heads. They prefer walking in a group of 200 and forming a parade.
Bag-shelter moth caterpillars inhabit the semi-arid woodlands and coastal vegetation across Australia. They pose big problems to horse breeders since the spines can sting the horse.
The venom in the spiny hairs can cause external and internal bleeding when touched. Severe poison infliction can lead to excess bleeding and death among humans.
|Maximum Size||4-5cm long|
|Appearance||Has a grey body covered in a tuft of spiny hairs and a brown head.|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||External and internal bleeding|
|Identification Features||Brow head and grey abdomen covered in tufts of spiny hairs.|
Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea)
It is a small green and brown caterpillar with large spikes and fleshy horns at both ends. The lime-green abdomen with a saddle marking and creamy-yellow dots on its head are fearsome.
The caterpillar can reach 0.78 inches long and 0.27 inches wide at maturity. These caterpillars thrive in warmer states in North America since they feed on oak, maple, and elm tree leaves.
The tubercles and spines release toxins when broken. A sting from a saddleback caterpillar can cause a burning sensation, redness, blistering, migraines, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
|Maximum Size||0.78 inches long and 0.27 inches wide|
|Appearance||Lime-green abdomen and yellow dots at its head.|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Burning sensation, redness, blistering, and migraines.|
|Identification Features||Lime-green blanket-like marking with an oval brown patch in the center.|
Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)
It is a dark brown spiky larval stage of buck moth covered in tiny white dots. The brownish multi-branched projections are attached to the venomous glands.
Both black and dark-brown caterpillars have reddish-brown legs. A buck moth caterpillar can grow up to 2.5 inches long before entering the pupa stage.
These spiny black caterpillars prefer eating foliage from various oak tree species. The sting from the caterpillars causes skin itching, burning, and severe irritation.
|Maximum Size||2.5 inches long|
|Appearance||Dark-brown caterpillar with tiny white dots|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin irritation, itching, and burning|
|Identification Features||Black body with multi-branched spines and white spots.|
Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)
A puss caterpillar is also called a woolly slug and it is the most poisonous species in the United States of America. It hails from Texas, Maryland, and Missouri states.
The caterpillar feeds on leaves from oak, elm, and sycamore trees. It varies in size from 1.2 inches to 1.4 inches long. These caterpillars have short spines that release poison.
Puss caterpillar stings can cause muscle cramps, fever, vomiting, anxiety, nausea, pain, swelling, itching, and shock. Seek medical assistance from a professional medical doctor.
|Maximum Size||1.2-1.4 inches|
|Appearance||Thick tan to grayish-white hairs|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Muscle cramps, pain, swellings, itching, and fever|
|Identification Features||Luxuriant golden brown or gray hairy coat|
Spiny Elm Caterpillar (Nymphalis antiopa)
The caterpillar species has a row of bright red or orange dots on its back. The cluster of white freckles and red legs are the prominent features.
This creepy crawlies are native to North America, central regions of Mexico, and temperate Eurasia. Some species have been spotted around the Gulf States and Florida peninsula.
The spiny elm caterpillars have sharp-looking black spines surrounded by white bristles that house the venom. A sting could cause skin irritation, redness, itchiness, and swelling.
|Maximum Size||50mm long|
|Appearance and Color||Black head and abdomen covered with tubercles.|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin irritation, redness, itchiness, and swelling|
|Identification Features||Sharp-looking black spines surrounded by white bristles.|
Hag Moth Caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium)
It is a furry brown caterpillar with 18 spines over its flat body. These caterpillar species are also called monkey slug moth caterpillars.
A mature hag moth caterpillar measures about 0.6 to 1 inch long. They feed on the foliage of birch, willow, apple, oak, and hickory trees.
|Maximum Size||0.6 to 1 inch long|
|Appearance and Color||Furry brown with 18 spines|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin itchiness and swelling|
|Identification Features||Brown caterpillar with curly projections.|
Stinging Rose Caterpillar (Parasa indetermina)
It is a brightly-colored caterpillar with yellow or orange spines filled with toxins. The black, white, orange and red lines running along its back are the prominent features.
A mature stinging rose caterpillar measures about an inch long and has seven pairs of spiny horns. These spiny horns have venom that can cause skin swelling and rashes.
|Maximum Size||1-inch long|
|Appearance and Color||Brightly colored with yellow or orange spines|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin swelling and rashes|
|Identification Features||Flattened, oval shape, seven pairs of fleshy conical projections, yellow, red, black, and orange colors|
White Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Norape ovina)
It is a beautiful yellow caterpillar with a large black band on its back and rusty-red bands. Other prominent features are yellow hairs, wispy black setae, and whitish spots on the back.
A mature white flannel moth caterpillar can reach 1-1.25 inches long. These yellow and black caterpillars hail from Florida, Washington DC, Texas, and Southern Mexico.
The white flannel moth caterpillar stings are marked by urticarial dermatitis when the hairs lodge into the skin. We recommend seeking medical assistance from professional doctors.
|Maximum Size||1-1.25 inches long|
|Appearance and Color||Large yellow and black|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Urticarial dermatitis|
|Identification Features||Dark brown or black bands on the abdomen and bright yellow tufts of stinging hairs.|
Hickory Tussock Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae)
It is a black and white caterpillar covered in tufts of irritating hair. These hairs can cause skin rashes when they come into contact.
These worm-like caterpillars have long white pencil hairs at either end, bands of black dots traversing the white body, and black tufts on their back.
Hickory tussock caterpillars can grow up to 1.77 inches long. These creatures defoliate willow, pecans, walnuts, and hickory trees.
|Maximum Size||1.77 inches long|
|Appearance and Color||Worm-like with long white pencil hairs|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin itching and rashes|
|Identification Features||Black tufts on the back and bands of black dots around the white body|
Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar (Lonomia obliqua)
It is a larval stage of a giant silkworm moth with dangerous brown hairs and toxic bristles. The caterpillar also has a brown cylindrical worm-like shape with white and tan markings on its back.
These caterpillars are covered in multi-branched greenish spines containing dangerous venom. It has an average size of 1.77 to 2.1 inches long. The venom can cause swelling, pain, and redness.
The giant silkworm moth caterpillars have soft, pale-green venomous spines and brown bodies. Some caterpillar species can be white, rusty- brown or black bands on their back.
|Maximum Size||1.77 to 2.1 inches long|
|Appearance and Color||Worm-like with white and tan markings|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Swelling, pain, and redness|
|Identification Features||Soft pale-green venomous spines around the brown body.|
White Cedar Moth Caterpillar (Leptocneria reducta)
It is a cylindrical dark brown caterpillar covered in irritating hairs. The long pencil setae coverings give these dark caterpillars a distinctive spiny appearance.
These caterpillars have orange feet and a faint yellow line along their back. They can grow up to 1.57 inches long and move in a group while defoliating white cedar trees.
The urticating hairs can cause allergic skin reactions like rashes, redness, and itchiness. The dark brown cigar-shaped body, orange prolegs, and dim yellow line on its back are identification details.
|Maximum Size||1.57 inches|
|Appearance and Color||Dark brown cigar-shaped body with spines|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Dermatitis, redness, and itchiness|
|Identification Features||Dark brown cigar-shaped body with orange prolegs and yellow line on the back.|
American Dagger Caterpillar (Acronicta americana)
It is a larval stage of the American dagger moth with poisonous yellow-whitish hairs. It also has several long black pencil bristle hairs on its back.
American dagger caterpillars are slender and covered in a tuft of stinging hairs containing poison. The furry pale yellow caterpillar can reach 2-inches at maturity.
These venomous caterpillars are known to defoliate maple, oak, elm, ash, and other hardwood trees. They are active from July through October and the toxic bristles harm when lodged in the skin.
|Appearance and Color||Slender and furry pale yellow caterpillar|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Skin irritation|
|Identification Features||The furry white-yellowish caterpillar with several long black pencil hairs of its back.|
Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita)
It is also called a smartweed caterpillar with a dark body and black lumps that bear tufts. It has a distinctive yellow V-shaped marking on its body.
Smeared dagger moth caterpillars are native to Florida, Texas, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. The hairs can cause a stinging sensation, burning, itching, and rashes.
|Maximum Size||0.75 to 1.73 inches long|
|Appearance and Color||Dark with black lumps of tufts|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Stinging sensation, burning, itching, and rashes|
|Identification Features||The yellow v-shaped markings on the dark body.|
Laurelcherry Smoky Moth Caterpillar (Neoprocris floridana)
It is a larval stage of laurelcherry smoky moth that measures about half an inch long. It has white and black dorsal area with yellow lateral body.
These caterpillars are native to Florida and Alabama due to the tropical climate. The body has short yellowish hairs filled with toxins.
|Maximum Size||Half an inch long|
|Appearance and Color||Have short yellowish hairs around the body|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Pain, rashes, and blistering|
|Identification Features||White and black dorsal areas with lateral yellow colors.|
Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa)
It is a black caterpillar with bands of yellowish-white toxin-filled hairs, amber dots, and a rounded head. These caterpillar species move in a group of hundred on a straight line.
A mature pine processionary caterpillar measures about 1.57inches long. The irritating hairs contain chemicals that cause small red bumps, pain, and contact dermatitis.
These destructive creatures are native to southern Europe, Asia, and North America. They have dark grey to black bodies with white urticating hairs.
|Maximum Size||1.57 inches|
|Appearance and Color||Dark grey to black body with white irritating hairs|
|Sting Symptoms and Signs||Small red bumps, contact dermatitis, and pain|
|Identification Features||Move as a group in a line|
My Final Thoughts
Caterpillars are destructive creepy crawling creatures since they feed on plant leaves and young buds. These creatures usually increase their body mass by 1000 times within a few weeks after hatching from eggs.
All types of venomous caterpillars obtain their poison from the plants they eat. We recommend not touching poisonous caterpillars to avoid severe skin reactions like redness, swelling, and itchiness.
The toxin-filled spines are protective weapons from dangerous predators. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, mind your steps and what your skin brush against in the wilderness. Feel free to share your experience with these poisonous caterpillars in the comment section.
People Who Read This Also Read: