Caterpillars may not be the first bugs that come to mind when thinking of venomous insects, but several dangerous caterpillar species can be found all over the state of Texas. Venomous caterpillars in the state include several flannel moth-caterpillar and tussock moth-caterpillar species. The io moth caterpillar and the saddleback caterpillar are two other venomous species that often inflict stings to Texas residents. The southern flannel moth caterpillar is considered the most venomous caterpillar species in the United States, and human envenomation cases involving this species have been increasing in Texas during recent years. For example, a five year old girl in north Texas became hospitalized in response to a southern flannel moth sting last summer, and this caterpillar species’ abundance in certain areas of the state has caused schools to close due to fears that children may sustain stings on their way to school or while playing outdoors during recess.
Although caterpillar envenomation cases have been increasing in Texas recently, caterpillar panics have gripped residents of the state in the past as well. Back in 1923, southern flannel moth caterpillars become so numerous that schools temporarily closed in San Antonio in order to protect children from dangerous encounters with the insects. Southern flannel moth caterpillars can be alluring to young children given the species’ fluffy appearance, but beneath their fluffy coat, numerous urticating hairs, or venomous “spines” cover the insects. If a specimen is picked up, the spines become lodged in the skin, causing severe pain until the spines are removed. Tussock moth-caterpillars are also abundant in Texas, and much like southern flannel moth caterpillars, tussock moth-caterpillar encounters send numerous residents to the emergency room each year.
Tussock moth caterpillars become prevalent in residential areas each year. However, the heavy rainfall last spring caused tussock moth caterpillars to become unusually abundant in residential and urban areas of San Antonio. Venomous caterpillars inhabit and damage trees, and it is not uncommon for specimens to fall from trees only to land on unsuspecting humans, which result in stings. One San Antonio resident, Jamie Calberg, woke during the middle of the night to the unpleasant sensation of a tussock moth caterpillar sting. The insects had become so prevalent in San Antonio a few years ago that a specimen wound up within Calberg’s bed. Within minutes, Calberg developed several red welts on her skin due to being punctured by several venomous spines. She claimed that the stinging sensation was comparable to the sensation produced by fire ant stings. Most caterpillar sting victims recover without issue, but in rare cases, anaphylactic shock can occur in sensitive individuals.
Have you ever located a caterpillar that had a fluffy white coat of hair?