Is it poisonous?

A Guide to Venomous Caterpillars in North Carolina: Know the Dangerous Species


North Carolina is home to a variety of caterpillar species, and while many are harmless, there are several species that possess venomous spines or hairs that can cause discomfort, allergic reactions, or more severe symptoms. It is important to learn about these dangerous species and their distinctive characteristics to avoid potential encounters and minimize risks.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar

The Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) is one of the most common venomous caterpillars in North Carolina. They are easily recognizable by the silky white tents they construct in the forks of tree branches. While the caterpillar itself is not venomous, its spines can cause severe skin irritations, itching, and rashes upon contact.

Saddleback Caterpillar

The Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) is a venomous species found across North Carolina. It has a distinct green body with a brown saddle-like marking on its back, which gives it its name. The caterpillar’s spines are venomous and can cause intense burning pain, skin discoloration, and even systemic symptoms if touched.

Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is another venomous species commonly found in North Carolina. It has a furry appearance with tufts of long, white hairs and black spines. These spines can cause skin irritations, rashes, and allergic reactions in some individuals.

Io Moth Caterpillar

The Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io) is a venomous caterpillar with distinctive bright green coloration and long spines. It can be found in various habitats in North Carolina, including urban areas and forests. Contact with its spines can result in severe skin reactions, pain, and localized swelling.


Knowing about the dangerous venomous caterpillar species in North Carolina is crucial for personal safety and the well-being of pets. It is important to exercise caution when encountering caterpillars in the wild, avoid touching them directly, and seek medical attention if stung or experiencing severe symptoms. By being aware of these species and their potential risks, you can enjoy the natural beauty of North Carolina while staying safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should I do if I come into contact with a venomous caterpillar?

If you come into direct contact with a venomous caterpillar, it is recommended to wash the affected area with soap and water, apply a cold compress, and monitor for any signs of an allergic reaction or worsening symptoms. If symptoms persist or become severe, seek medical attention.

2. How can I prevent caterpillar stings?

To prevent caterpillar stings, avoid touching or handling caterpillars directly, especially those with spines or hairs. Wear protective clothing such as gloves and long sleeves when gardening or spending time outdoors in areas where venomous caterpillars may be present.

3. Are all caterpillars venomous?

No, not all caterpillars are venomous. The majority of caterpillar species in North Carolina are harmless and do not possess venomous spines or hairs. However, it is still advisable to avoid direct contact with any unknown caterpillar species.

4. Can caterpillar venom cause serious health problems?

In most cases, caterpillar venom causes mild to moderate symptoms such as skin irritations, rashes, and localized pain. However, individuals who are allergic or sensitive to caterpillar venom may experience more severe reactions and should seek immediate medical attention if necessary.

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