I know most folks here in Blount County have never had to pick cotton, or any other crop. Therefore, most of you have never experienced the sting of a packsaddle or saddleback caterpillar. The stinging sensation is much like that of a jellyfish; more like a chemical burn than a bee sting. Unfortunately I have had the joy of encountering both creatures.
I once planted a “burning bush” as a foundation plant and the packsaddles loved it. I was amazed at the numbers on it because they are usually loners and relatively uncommon, thank goodness. Saddleback caterpillar
Also called a packsaddle, it is the most common of the slug caterpillar (family Limacodidae). It is about one inch long and the front and back ends of the body are dark brown with brown “horns” that have spines. The middle of the body is a pretty green with a cream margin and a large oval to oblong dark brown spot in the middle, which also has a cream to white margin. It looks like a saddle and a blanket. Now you know how it gets its name.
Clumps of spines occur in a row along the lower margin of the green area and at the rear of the caterpillar. In my last encounter, I never actually saw the creature, I just felt it as my arm barely brushed it. That was enough, thank you very much.
The packsaddle is generally a solitary feeder. They occur on a wide variety of trees, shrubs and other plants, including corn, especially in late summer and fall. Other hosts include apple, basswood, cherry, dogwood, elm, maple, oak and plum. The sting of the packsaddle is the most severe of the slug family. I don’t think a bird would touch this creature! Hag moth caterpillar
The hag moth larva is also a member of the slug caterpillar family. It looks like a cross between cousin It from The Addams Family and Patrick from Sponge- Bob SquarePants (yes, I have grandkids). It is about 5/8 inch long, brown and hairy looking. Along the body are nine pairs of fleshy lateral “arms” that have hidden spines.
It is also generally a solitary feeder and may be found on apple, ash, birch, dogwood, hickory, oak and willow. It is usually most common in August and September.
Other stinging caterpillars in the slug family include the stinging rose caterpillar, the spiny oak slug, Nason’s slug, and Isa textula. To my knowledge, I have never encountered any of the later mentioned slugs, and prefer not to. Puss caterpillar
Flannel moth caterpillars, (family Megalopygidae) are usually clothed with fine, long, silky hairs. There are no large bristle-bearing spines or horns, or bright colors to warn of danger. They feed on a variety of trees and shrubs. In most years populations are low and it’s a good thing.
The puss caterpillar, the larva of the southern flannel moth, is our most dangerous stinging caterpillar. It is covered with fine, long, tan, grayish to brown hairs which hide the venomous spines. The hairs form a roof-like cover over the back and taper rearward to form a “tail”. The full-grown larva is about one inch long but may appear larger due to the hairy coat.
These caterpillars feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs. Common hosts include apple, elm, hackberry, maple, oak, pecan and sycamore. Two generations per year occur in our area, one in late spring/early summer and the other in late summer/early fall. Contact with the puss caterpillar may produce severe reactions including: intense burning and nettling of the skin, severe pain, reddening and inflammation, numbness and swelling, and nausea. Pain may persist for up to 12 hours. Medical attention may be required in some instances.
Larger caterpillars are more potent than smaller ones. I don’t want to encounter either of them. We have specimens of this in the Extension office that were obtained locally. Also, several years ago, a youngster was “stung” by something and it did produce the symptoms mentioned above and medical attention was obtained. The insect was never identified, but the suspect was a puss caterpillar.
There are several more stinging caterpillars in Alabama. If you want to learn more about them Google Stinging Caterpillars: A Guide to Recognition of Species
Found on Alabama Trees. Much of the information presented here came from that source, plus there are great pictures to assist you with identification of these stingers. Grassroots meeting
Tomorrow, Aug, 9, the Extension office will host a “Grassroots” meeting. During this time we will discuss how to best utilize Extension resources here in the county. If there are programs or programming efforts you would like to see or take part in, please join us for the discussion. All are invited to attend. Minorities and women are encouraged to attend. It will begin at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Frank Green Building, 415 5th Ave. E., Oneonta. Refreshments will be served. I hope to see you there!
Dan Porch is County Extension Coordinator with the Blount County Extension Office. Dan lives in and loves Blount County and is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. He can be reached at (205) 274-2129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.