Saddleback Caterpillar

We had our first encounter with this menacing little caterpillar while we were picking Elderberries.  Lauren was reaching for a bunch of berries when all of a sudden she quickly pulled back her hand saying she had been stung.  I looked at her pinky finger and it was all red and welts were starting to show where she had been “hit”.

It didn’t take us long to find the culprits….

I cut the twig where we found these little caterpillars and put them in a bag to take home to photograph.

They’re very cute and quite beautiful but oh, do they hurt.

These are called Saddleback Caterpillars.  I had never seen them before and after watching Lauren and the pain she was feeling, was glad I had never encountered them before today.  After reading about them, I was quite intrigued about their natural defense mechanism.  Lauren was still dealing with the affect of the stings 2 days later – and these weren’t even adults!

Here’s what the experts say:

Saddleback Caterpillar

SIZE: 1 inch (25 mm)

COLOR: Purplish-brown body with a purplish saddle shape on its green back.

DESCRIPTION: The saddleback caterpillar is about an inch long, and has poisonous spines on four large projections (tubercles) and many smaller ones that stick out from the sides of its body. The “saddle” consists of an oval purplish-brown spot in the middle of a green patch on the back. Saddleback caterpillars feed on the leaves of basswood, chestnut, cherry, plum, oak, and other trees and shrubs.

HABITAT: The saddleback caterpillar is a general feeder and is generally found on shade trees and ornamental shrubs in late summer.

LIFE CYCLE: Adults tend to take flight in mid-summer.

TYPE OF DAMAGE: The poisonous hairs or spins 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. Usually the site of contact reddens and swells much like a bee sting.

CONTROL: 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. Stinging caterpillars rarely occur in sufficient numbers to be considered plant pests, but people who work with ornamental plants should learn to recognize them and avoid touching them.

Eric Day, Manager, Insect Identification Laboratory

For as beautifully striking as these caterpillars are, it would be a good idea to admire them from afar!


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8 Responses to “Saddleback Caterpillar”

  1. Hannah Says:

    What a interesting and fun little caterpillar!!

  2. Dayna Reidenouer Says:

    Do these critters turn into moths? If so, what kind? Is there such a thing as a saddleback moth?

    • lazybfarm Says:

      Yes, you’re correct. It does turn into the Saddleback moth – a rather dull creature compared to the caterpillar stage!

  3. cara Says:

    Wow! what amazing looking caterpillars! I’m sure that predators stay far away.

    Great Shots!

  4. Ronad Says:

    We had our first encounter with this little creatures one week ago today. Not only had we never seen anything like this, we could not find anyone who had. My son (14) was walking between a corn field and woods and was stung on the back of his neck by one. The site reddened, swelled and hurt, just like a bee sting. We removed 5 “hairs” and treated the area. All was well until 24 hours later when my son became violently sick; vomiting & diarrhea with fairly severe abdominal cramps. Again, we treated the symptoms and within 6-8 hours, he was back to normal. Crazy little critters!

  5. Jerri Strombeck Says:

    I just met one. I had no idea they even existed.

    NO, they are NOT fun and interesting!

    The stings HURT. They hurt way worse than a bee sting or a wasp sting.

    And I’m an adult.

  6. Houston extended stay Says:

    I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

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