Virginia is home to a variety of caterpillar species, some of which can be potentially poisonous. In this guide, we will discuss how to identify and avoid these poisonous caterpillars to ensure the safety of residents.

Types of Poisonous Caterpillars in Virginia

1. Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Description: The Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar has a white or yellowish body covered in long black and white hairs.

Dangers: Contact with the hairs on this caterpillar can cause itching and skin irritation.

2. Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)

Description: The Puss Caterpillar is covered in hair-like spines and has a reddish-brown appearance. It is often mistaken for a small furry animal.

Dangers: Contact with the spines can cause intense pain, swelling, and a rash. In some cases, individuals may experience nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing if the spines enter the bloodstream.

3. Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io)

Description: The Io Moth Caterpillar is bright green with spiky hairs and red and white stripes.

Dangers: Contact with the spines can cause localized pain, redness, and itchiness.

Identifying Poisonous Caterpillars

To identify poisonous caterpillars, it is important to look for specific characteristics:

  • Hairy or spiky appearance
  • Bright colors or distinct patterns
  • Unusual or menacing shapes

If you come across a caterpillar that fits these descriptions, it is best to avoid touching it and keep a safe distance.

Avoiding Poisonous Caterpillars

Here are some tips to avoid contact with poisonous caterpillars:

  1. Be cautious when spending time outdoors, especially in grassy areas or near trees.
  2. Wear appropriate clothing that covers your skin, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  3. Keep your hands and arms protected with gloves or sleeves.
  4. Be mindful of where you sit or place your hands when in nature.
  5. Teach children about the potential dangers of touching unfamiliar caterpillars.

By following these precautions, you can greatly reduce the risk of coming into contact with poisonous caterpillars.

What to Do If You Encounter a Poisonous Caterpillar

If you accidentally touch a poisonous caterpillar, here are the recommended steps:

  1. Do not panic. Stay calm and avoid further contact with the caterpillar.
  2. Gently wash the affected area with warm water and mild soap.
  3. Use adhesive tape to remove any spines or hairs that may be stuck to the skin.
  4. Apply an ice pack or cold compress to reduce swelling and pain.
  5. If symptoms worsen or you experience severe reactions, seek medical attention immediately.


Being able to identify and avoid poisonous caterpillars is crucial for the safety and well-being of Virginia residents. By familiarizing yourself with the types of poisonous caterpillars in the area and following preventive measures, you can enjoy the outdoors without the risk of harmful encounters. Stay vigilant and prioritize your safety when exploring nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are all caterpillars in Virginia poisonous?

A: No, not all caterpillars in Virginia are poisonous. There are many harmless caterpillar species as well. It is important to be able to identify the specific characteristics of poisonous caterpillars to avoid them.

Q: Can I touch a poisonous caterpillar with gloves on?

A: It is best to avoid touching any caterpillar, even with gloves on, as some poisonous species have spines that can penetrate gloves. It is always better to err on the side of caution.

Q: What should I do if my child accidentally touches a poisonous caterpillar?

A: If your child comes into contact with a poisonous caterpillar, follow the steps mentioned earlier in this guide. Wash the affected area, remove any spines or hairs, and apply a cold compress. If symptoms worsen or your child experiences severe reactions, seek medical attention immediately.



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