Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is by far one of our favorite bedtime stories in our household. My kids love to tell me that, just like caterpillars, they need to eat things such as cake, lollipops, ice cream, and cupcakes in order to grow into healthy, beautiful “butterflies.” While the caterpillar in the book sure seems adorable and cute, this time of the year brings out those not so precious caterpillars…the ones with the stinging spines all over them.
You have probably seen these stinging caterpillars creeping along on tree branches, munching on leaves, or just hanging out on the ground in the past few weeks. These caterpillars are covered in small spines that are hollow and contain a venom. Unlike wasp or bees which have a single stinger that can penetrate the skin and introduce a venom, the spines on these caterpillars “break off” when the caterpillar is touched (usually inadvertently by the bottom of bare feet or curious little fingers that don’t know any better). Once the spines “break off,” the venom is then introduced into or onto the skin causing reactions.
“Not unlike wasp or bee stings, there are some people who can have serious, life-threatening reactions to the sting of caterpillars.”
The first sign of a caterpillar sting will be, not surprisingly, stinging on the skin. Itching and burning of the skin can soon follow, and depending on the person and the specific type of caterpillar involved, rash, blisters, and even numbness may develop. Not unlike wasp or bee stings, there are some people who can have serious, life-threatening reactions to the sting of caterpillars.
The first thing to do after a “brush in” with one of these prickly little creatures is to apply scotch tape over the sting site. The tape will help to remove the spines from the skin. Use a new piece of tape each time you are touching over the area as you do not want to “reintroduce” spines that were already pulled off with the tape. Next, wash the area with gentle soap and water and then apply a paste of baking soda and water. Also, applying an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) may help to reduce some of the pain as well. If having a more significant reaction such as major swelling, any change to breathing or a sudden cough, or other signs of systemic allergic reaction, immediate medical attention is indicated.
So be on the lookout for these pesky little creatures. The good news, though-while they can be burdensome in their spiny caterpillar stage, in time, many of these will grow into beautiful butterflies.