Virginia is home to a diverse range of caterpillar species, some of which possess venomous spines or hairs that can cause painful stings or serious allergic reactions. This article aims to shed light on the hidden dangers posed by venomous caterpillars in Virginia, providing valuable information for residents and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Venomous Caterpillar Species of Virginia

Virginia is host to several venomous caterpillar species, including the well-known puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) and saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea). These caterpillars may appear harmless, but their fuzzy or spiky exteriors hide a potent defense mechanism.

The Puss Caterpillar

The puss caterpillar, also known as the southern flannel moth, is one of the most venomous caterpillars found in Virginia. It is covered in dense, fur-like hairs that deliver a painful sting when touched. The sting can cause intense burning, swelling, and even larger systemic reactions in some individuals.

The Saddleback Caterpillar

The saddleback caterpillar is named for the distinct saddle-shaped marking on its back. This caterpillar has venomous spines that can cause severe skin irritation, including redness, itching, and blistering. Direct contact with the spines should be avoided.

Preventive Measures

To minimize the risk of encountering venomous caterpillars in Virginia, it is important to take certain preventive measures:

  • Avoid direct contact with caterpillars, especially those with spines, hairs, or unusual markings.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and gloves when gardening or spending time in wooded areas.
  • Be cautious when handling or touching plants, as caterpillars may be hidden among the foliage.
  • Teach children about the dangers of touching unfamiliar insects and caterpillars.
  • If a caterpillar is accidentally touched, gently remove any detached spines or hairs using adhesive tape.

What to Do If Stung

If stung by a venomous caterpillar, it is important to take the following steps:

  1. Remove any spines or hairs from the affected area using adhesive tape or a credit card. Avoid using tweezers, as they may break the spines or inject more venom.
  2. Wash the area with soap and water to remove any venom.
  3. Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
  4. Take over-the-counter pain relievers or antihistamines, if necessary, to manage symptoms.
  5. If symptoms worsen or an allergic reaction occurs, seek medical attention immediately.


While Virginia offers picturesque landscapes and diverse wildlife, it is essential to be aware of the hidden dangers posed by venomous caterpillars. By taking preventive measures and knowing how to respond if stung, residents and visitors can safely enjoy the natural beauty of the region without the risk of encountering these hidden dangers.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are all caterpillars in Virginia venomous?

No, not all caterpillars in Virginia are venomous. However, it is important to exercise caution and avoid direct contact with caterpillars, especially those with spines, hairs, or unusual markings.

2. Can a venomous caterpillar sting be life-threatening?

While most venomous caterpillar stings cause localized pain and discomfort, some individuals may experience larger systemic reactions or severe allergic reactions. In such cases, immediate medical attention is necessary.

3. Are venomous caterpillars active year-round in Virginia?

Venomous caterpillars in Virginia are typically active during the warmer months, from spring to fall. However, it is still possible to encounter them in certain regions during milder winter months.

4. Can venomous caterpillar stings leave long-lasting effects?

In most cases, venomous caterpillar stings cause temporary symptoms that resolve within a few days or weeks. However, individuals with severe allergic reactions or other underlying health conditions may experience more prolonged effects.

5. How can I identify venomous caterpillars in Virginia?

Venomous caterpillars in Virginia often have distinctive physical characteristics, such as spines, hairs, bright colors, or unusual markings. It is recommended to consult local resources or experts for accurate identification.



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