Is it poisonous?

A Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Poisonous Caterpillars in North Carolina



North Carolina is home to a variety of caterpillar species, some of which can be poisonous and cause harm to humans. It is important to be able to identify these caterpillars and know how to avoid them to prevent any accidental encounters.

Identifying Poisonous Caterpillars

There are several key characteristics to look out for when identifying poisonous caterpillars:

  • Coloration: Many poisonous caterpillars have vibrant colors like red, orange, or yellow, which serve as a warning to predators.
  • Spike-like Structures: Some poisonous caterpillars have spiky protrusions or hairs on their bodies, which can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
  • Patterning: Certain caterpillars have distinct patterns or markings that can help identify them as potentially poisonous.

Common Poisonous Caterpillars in North Carolina

1. Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum): This caterpillar is known for its distinctive white markings and black body. It can cause skin irritation if touched.

2. Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae): This caterpillar has a combination of black and white spiky hairs. Contact with its hairs can cause skin rashes and itching.

3. Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io): The Io Moth Caterpillar is green with white and red stripes. Its spines are venomous, causing severe pain and irritation when touched.

Avoiding Poisonous Caterpillars

To avoid encounters with poisonous caterpillars, follow these tips:

  • Stay on designated paths and trails when walking in nature.
  • Avoid touching or handling caterpillars, especially those with vibrant colors or spiky structures.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and gloves, when working in gardens or wooded areas.
  • Teach children about the potential dangers of touching caterpillars and encourage them to observe from a safe distance.


Being aware of the presence of poisonous caterpillars in North Carolina and knowing how to identify and avoid them is crucial for personal safety. By staying observant and taking necessary precautions, you can enjoy the beauty of nature while minimizing the risk of encountering these potentially harmful insects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are all caterpillars in North Carolina poisonous?

A: No, not all caterpillars in North Carolina are poisonous. However, it is important to be cautious and avoid touching or handling any caterpillars unless you are certain of their harmless nature.

Q: What should I do if I come into contact with a poisonous caterpillar?

A: If you accidentally touch or come into contact with a poisonous caterpillar, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention.

Q: Can caterpillars cause serious harm?

A: Some caterpillars can cause serious harm, especially those with venomous spines or hairs. It is important to avoid direct contact and take necessary precautions to prevent any allergic reactions or skin irritations.

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