Caterpillars are often thought of as harmless creatures that nibble on plant leaves. But did you know that there are several species of poisonous caterpillars in Texas that can sting if bothered?
These creatures are actually venomous and not poisonous since their toxins are injected into your skin via their sharp spines and not released when consumed. Either way, knowing what poisonous caterpillars in Texas you may come across will help keep you safe from their stings.
6 Poisonous Caterpillars In Texas
While most of the caterpillars you come across pose no risk, there are a few venomous species that have stinging spines. While these stings are not pleasant, they rarely cause serious or life-threatening problems. Even so, you wouldn’t want to mess with any of the poisonous caterpillars in Texas.
Keep reading to learn more about these stinging caterpillars so you can steer clear of them and their toxic spines.
1. Flannel Moth Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Megalopyge opercularis
The flannel moth caterpillar may have the most painful sting of all the poisonous caterpillars in Texas. This caterpillar is often known as the pus caterpillar and has a rather cut and fuzzy appearance, with a body covered in soft-looking fur.
Don’t let its innocent look fool you, however, because it is considered one of the most dangerous stinging caterpillars, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. This caterpillar is covered in thick gray, tan, or brown hair, but underneath this hair is where its stinging spines hide.
The flannel moth caterpillar is often found on broadleaf shrubs and trees, including oak, sycamore, elm, maple, and apple. They can be seen in spring and early summer, as well as late summer and fall.
2. Spiny Oak Slug Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Euclea delphinii
The spiny oak slug caterpillar is named for the protruding spines that cover this insect’s oval body. This stout caterpillar comes in a wide array of colors and is often found on oak, willow, and cherry trees, as well as various other species of woody plants.
The toxic spines on the spiny oak slug caterpillar are hollow and can break off and embed themselves into the skin. While the stings can burn and cause redness, itchiness, and inflammation, they are usually milder than other species of stinging caterpillars.
3. Buck Moth Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Hemileuca maia
The buck moth caterpillar has a large black and white body that features spines that branch outward from its back. These spines have the ability to cause skin irritation which ranges from mildly annoying to painful.
The symptoms associated with a buck moth caterpillar skin can last for over a week, though most people begin to see them subside after a day or two. Buck moth caterpillars are often seen feeding on oak trees but are not an uncommon sight on willow trees.
4. Saddleback Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Acharia stimulea
As its name suggests, the saddleback caterpillar has a saddle-like marking on its back. The body of this caterpillar is typically brown with a vibrant green marking that looks similar to what horses wear.
This marking has a white border, and located in the middle is the brown saddle. Its stinging spines protrude from each of the caterpillar’s sides. When stung by the saddleback caterpillar, the area typically starts to burn or itch, and will become red and inflamed.
This caterpillar is typically seen on various shrubs, trees, and plants, including corn, but oak, elm, dogwood, maple, basswood, and apple are its host trees.
5. Io Moth Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Automeris io
With its pale green body, the io moth caterpillar could be mistaken for a number of other different caterpillars. One way to properly identify this insect is to look for red and light yellow or white stripes going down the caterpillar’s body.
It will also have a cluster of yellowish or green stinging spines with black tips at the back of its body. The stings of the io moth caterpillar can cause a burning sensation, swelling, redness, itchiness, and inflammation.
These stinging caterpillars can be problematic, causing damage to a wide array of plants, including oak, dogwood, maple, apple, plum, cherry, basswood, and corn.
6. Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Scientific Name: Lophocampa caryae
The hickory tussock moth caterpillar is a larger, light-colored caterpillar that measures about 1 to 2 inches in length. They have a cluster of bristle-like tufts located on 4 of their abdominal segments.
Other varieties of tussock moth caterpillars have different colored bodies and hairs, but the one thing they all have in common is the clumps of bristle tufts.
Like other types of tussock moth caterpillars, the hickory tussock moth caterpillar has stinging spines equipped with toxin glands. When stung, it creates an unpleasant rash for most people, but some have a more severe reaction.