Caterpillars belong to the group of stinging insects that includes bees, ants, and wasps. Most caterpillar stings occur late summer to early fall and can be found throughout the state.
Some caterpillars have stinging hairs, which are a defense mechanism against predators. These hairs can get deposited on human skin and cause irritating symptoms like stinging and 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 and call NC Poison Control.
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 it off gently; do not jerk.
3. Wash the area thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
4. Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) if needed for itching.
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. Encourage children not to pick up caterpillars, especially those that are large with hairs/spines.
Call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for questions about an exposure to caterpillars or chat with us here for more information.