By Gary D. Myers
(This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the NOBTS Gatekeeper in 2009. Hope you enjoy it. Special thanks to Frank for the excellent headline and photo).
If termites, tropical storms, humidity, hurricanes and occasional, crippling two-inch snows (once every 30 years) are not enough to keep one vigilant in New Orleans, one other foe may do so – the buck moth caterpillar. These caterpillars have one nasty sting.
This time each year, thousands of buck moth caterpillars descend on New Orleans. Parents should warn children to stay away from all caterpillars to avoid a very painful sting. Many children from New Orleans can attest to the pain involved with their sting.
The buck moth caterpillar is primarily brown or dark green with small white spots. They have pronounced spiny, hair-like projections over the body. The caterpillars are typically found near oak trees – the most abundant tree species in New Orleans.
The following statement on buck moth caterpillars is taken from a bulletin produced by Virginia Tech University:
“The poisonous hairs or spines are hollow and connected to underlying poison glands. Contact with them causes a burning sensation and inflammation that can be as painful as a bee sting. The irritation can last for a day or two and may be accompanied by nausea during the first few hours.”
The Virginia Tech bulletin offers the following advice for treating the sting:
“A person ‘stung’ by a poisonous caterpillar should immediately wash the affected area to remove any insect hairs and poison that remain. An ice pack will help reduce swelling, and creams and lotions containing steroids will lessen the discomfort and promote healing. Persons known to be sensitive to insect stings should consult a physician.”
One local expert on the buck moth caterpillar is Jonathan, an eight-year-old Gentilly resident. Jonathan had a recent encounter with a buck moth caterpillar that resulted in nasty stings on the arm and on the leg.
“It was a brown, furry one,” Jonathan said. “There are signs all over the zoo that say ‘watch out for stinging caterpillars.””
“My arm had lots of dots,” he said.
According to Jonathan, the sting felt similar to that of a wasp. It left a series of red welts on his arm and leg. And while the discomfort was gone after a few days, the bumps were visible for almost a week. His advice to other children “not to grab caterpillars.”
The good news is that these caterpillars will soon be moths. The bad news, they will be moth