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Four Caterpillar Species Often Found On Louisiana Properties Cause Serious Envenomation Symptoms In Most People Who Make Contact With The Insects

Much like ladybugs and butterflies, caterpillars are considered by many to be approachable insects that can be fun to handle. However, this is not the attitude to take when encountering venomous caterpillars, as there are several caterpillar species in Louisiana that have venomous spines protruding from their bodies. These “spines” are called “urticating hairs,” and simply touching a venomous caterpillar is enough to cause lasting intense pain and potentially dangerous allergic reactions.

Venomous caterpillars are often found within residential yards in Louisiana, and it is not uncommon for people to sustain stings while performing yard work, and in some cases, stings occur after caterpillars fall from trees and land on humans. Tragically, it is also not uncommon for young children to touch venomous caterpillars out of curiosity when the larval insects are spotted within yards. Many venomous caterpillar species are appealing to children due to their seemingly furry appearance, but what appears to be fur is actually venomous urticating hairs. Some of the most commonly encountered venomous caterpillar species in Louisiana include io moth-caterpillars, tussock moth-caterpillars, asp-caterpillars and saddleback caterpillars. Both tussock moth-caterpillars and asp caterpillars are known for causing particularly painful stings, and in some rare cases, anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.

A one year study of 112 caterpillar stings sustained within Louisiana found that 96 percent of sting victims experienced severe pain, 89 percent experienced erythema, 72 percent experienced edema, and systemic responses occurred in 26 percent of sting victims. Systemic symptoms included vomiting, headaches, chills, fever, and muscle spasms. Experts were able to identify the species of 68 percent of the caterpillars that caused these venomous reactions. Four species accounted for a majority of the stings. These four species were buck moth-caterpillars, io moth-caterpillars, southern flannel moth-caterpillars, and saddleback caterpillars. Only 16 percent of the sting victims had an allergy to insect venom, and a whopping 61 percent experienced lasting pain and other symptoms for at least 24 hours.

Have you ever encountered a venomous caterpillar within your yard?

The Venomous Caterpillar Scare That Gripped Students And Staff At Loyola And Tulane Universities

Caterpillars are not traditionally considered dangerous animals, but numerous incidents involving harmful caterpillar evenomations in the south have prompted much concern over the larval insects. Last year, an incident involving the hospitalization of a Florida teenager over a caterpillar sting made national news. As a result of all the media attention concerning this, and other well publicized encounters with dangerous caterpillars, more and more people are beginning to fear the baby insects. Also last year, public health officials in a coastal North Carolina town warned residents about the medical threat posed by a caterpillar species often found in urban and residential areas in the south. The caterpillar species causing all the fuss is commonly referred to as a “puss moth caterpillar,” or a “southern flannel moth caterpillar,” and this species is considered the most dangerous caterpillar in the United States. Unfortunately, the southern flannel moth caterpillar is abundant in Louisiana, and they are often found within residential yards and urban parks. As it happens, this dangerous caterpillar species once caused a public scare on college campuses in New Orleans.

Back in 2014, officials with Loyola and Tulane Universities warned students about the risk of making contact with puss caterpillars. Professors, entomologists and public health professionals at the Universities took part in public service announcements that aimed to educate students and staff on how to avoid making contact with the caterpillars. The southern flannel moth caterpillar was, and still is a common sight on the two campuses. Most people get stung after accidentally sitting, or leaning on a caterpillar, and once the insect’s protruding spines detach and remain lodged in human skin, venom continues to enter the bloodstream. A warning released by Tulane officials stated that systemic symptoms can take effect in as little as five minutes following exposure to the southern flannel moth caterpillar’s venom. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting and intense abdominal distress. After the warnings were issued, professors and students from both universities began to report southern flannel moth sightings on campus benches, sidewalks and the walls of buildings. No envenomations were reported at either university following the announcement, but southern flannel moths send numerous residents of Louisiana to the emergency room every year.

Have you ever spotted a fluffy white caterpillar that resembled a cotton ball?

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