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Caterpillars belong to the group of stinging insects that includes bees, ants and wasps. Most caterpillar stings occur late summer to early fall.

Some caterpillars have stinging hairs, which are a defense mechanism against predators. These hairs can get deposited on human skin and cause stinging and itching.

Symptoms include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • burning or itching.

Rarely, symptoms can progress to more severe reactions like nausea, headaches, or hives.

Caterpillar hairs that contact the eye can cause tearing, irritation, and sensitivity to bright lights. In case of an eye exposure, rinse your eyes thoroughly with room-temperature water.

If you find a caterpillar on your body, do not brush it off with your hand. Use a stick or other stiff device such as driver’s license to remove it.

Treatment of a caterpillar sting to the skin:

  1. Place a piece of tape over the sting site and pull, do not jerk, it off.
  2. Repeat several times using a different piece of tape each time.
  3. Wash the area thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
  4. Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) if needed.
  5. Apply corticosteroid cream, such as hydrocortisone to the area surrounding the sting.

The very young, the elderly, and people with compromised health prior to a sting are more likely to have a severe reaction to a sting.


Call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or chat from this site if you’ve been stung by a caterpillar or if you have other questions.

Last Updated on 04/27/2022