Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Are Hairy Caterpillars Dangerous?

Caterpillars use hairiness as a form of defense. You can find these creatures in gardens and forests all over the world, but they are not always welcome. They are common in the spring when they emerge from their cocoons and begin to look for food.

So what’s the deal with these furry creatures? Are hairy caterpillars dangerous? We’ll answer all that in this article!

Key takeaways

  • Although some of these hairy caterpillars’ poison can only irritate the skin, others can be fatal, so it is always best to leave them alone.
  • Insecticides and luring birds to your yard can both be used to get rid of hairy caterpillars.
  • Avoid brightly colored caterpillars such as red and yellow because the majority of them are toxic.

Are Hairy Caterpillars Dangerous?

hairy caterpillar
Hairy Caterpillar on a branch of tree | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Yes, hairy caterpillars can be dangerous. However, most aren’t deadly to humans. In fact, only a few species of hairy caterpillars are actually poisonous when touched. Having said that, you should still be cautious when handling any of these animals unless you are certain it is harmless.

Venomous and poisonous

These two terms describe different modes of toxin delivery and their effects on the body.

A venomous hairy caterpillar is one that injects venom into its prey or predator. Hairs on its body may contain venom, which can cause a range of symptoms such as pain, itching, swelling, and even death. Some species of venomous hairy caterpillars have spines or stingers that can break off in the skin, increasing the risk of venom exposure.

An example of a venomous hairy caterpillar is the Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis). This caterpillar is found in the southern United States and Mexico, and its long, furry hairs contain venomous spines that can cause severe pain, swelling, and other symptoms in humans who come into contact with them.

On the other hand, a poisonous caterpillar is one that is toxic if ingested or touched. Poisonous caterpillars may have toxic compounds in their body, which they use as a defense mechanism against predators. Contact with a poisonous caterpillar can cause a range of symptoms such as skin irritation, rash, nausea, and vomiting.

An example of a poisonous hairy caterpillar is the Monkey Slug (Phobetron pithecium). This caterpillar is found in the southeastern United States and gets its name from its furry appearance, which resembles a small monkey. Its hairs are covered in toxic spines that can cause skin irritation, rash, and other symptoms if touched.

Most dangerous type of caterpillar

Giant silkworm moth caterpillar
Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar | image by Centro de Informações Toxicológicas de Santa Catarina via Wikimedia Commons

The most dangerous caterpillar is the giant silkworm moth. This caterpillar is native to South America and Central America. It’s common in South American countries like Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

If one of their hairs gets stuck in your skin, the poison will be released, causing an allergic reaction. Itching and redness around the area where the hair became stuck are the most common symptoms.

Having contact with their spines can also cause brain hemorrhage and kidney failure. If you believe you have been exposed to these hairs, you should see a doctor right away!

If you get stung by a hairy caterpillar

painted lady caterpillar on a branch
Painted Lady Caterpillar on a branch | image by gailhampshire via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The best thing you can do if you get stung by a hairy caterpillar is to remain calm and keep your distance from the caterpillar. Wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible after being pricked.

You may also like:  15 Caterpillars in Georgia (With Pictures)

This will help prevent infection from developing around the area where you were stung. After touching this hairy creature, you may only have a few bumps on your skin.

However, if you begin to feel dizzy or lightheaded, you should seek medical attention right away. Some people are allergic to the poison of the hairy caterpillar, which can lead to anaphylaxis and death if not treated promptly.

How to get rid of hairy caterpillars

Hairy caterpillar on green leaf
Hairy caterpillar on green leaf

The hairy caterpillar infestation has been a problem for homeowners for decades. So, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already encountered the critters—and you’re unsure how to get rid of them on your own.

Don’t worry, you can get rid of them by doing some of the following:

1. Attract caterpillar-eating birds

To get rid of hairy caterpillars, you can attract birds in your backyard with bird feeders. This will keep these pests out of your yard and limit the amount of damage they cause.

The problem can be cleaned up for you by birds, who enjoy eating hairy caterpillars. To attract birds, place bird feeders in your yard—they’ll come as soon as they can see that there’s food available for them.

The best bird feeders are those made from metal or plastic because they can withstand the weather better than paper ones. You can also attract birds by planting flowers native to their natural habitat.

2. Use insecticides

There are numerous methods for dealing with caterpillar infestations, but one of the most common is to spray the affected area with an insecticide containing bacillus thuringiensis. This bacteria is not harmful to humans, pets, or wildlife, and it only affects caterpillars.

It is important to note that BT only kills those insects that consume it. The bacteria take about 3-5 days to kill all of the caterpillars. It is also best to spray insecticides on the affected plant every 7-10 days.

This will help keep caterpillar populations down for a longer period of time than if you only sprayed once at the start of your problem.

How do I know if a hairy caterpillar is poisonous?

Hairy caterpillar crawling
Hairy caterpillar crawling

Here are some hints to help you determine whether the tiny animal in front of you is actually poisonous. First and foremost, consider the color. Caterpillars with bright colors, such as red or yellow, are usually toxic, but those with neutral colors like black or brown are typically safe.

You can also tell if a caterpillar is dangerous by looking at its head: poisonous ones have distinct horns on their heads, whereas harmless caterpillars do not. If you are unsure whether a particular caterpillar is dangerous to touch or not, it is best to leave it alone until you can consult with someone more knowledgeable than yourself (like an entomologist).

Are all hairy caterpillars deadly?

Hairy yellow caterpillar
Hairy Yellow Caterpillar | image by Aidan Jones via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Hairy caterpillars, such as the puss moth, are often feared by those who come across them. But not all hairy caterpillars are deadly and many are only mildly venomous or poisonous. In fact, some of them only irritate your skin slightly, whereas others can be fatal due to their venom.

You may also like:  Facts and Info About Water Bugs in Texas 

These little creatures evolved this way because they live in areas with a lot of predators who would love nothing more than to eat them up. To avoid being consumed by other animals, these caterpillars need all the assistance they can get!


In conclusion, hairy caterpillars can be dangerous, but only if you touch them. Some species can even be deadly. Most though will only give you mild skin irritation in the event that you are stung, which will go away in a few days.

However, it’s best not to touch hairy caterpillars unless you are certain they are not dangerous.

About Wildlife Informer

WildlifeInformer.com is your #1 source for free information about all types of wildlife and exotic pets. We also share helpful tips and guides on a variety of topics related to animals and nature.