Is it poisonous?

The Most Poisonous Caterpillars Found in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide



Caterpillars are fascinating creatures that undergo metamorphosis and eventually transform into beautiful butterflies or moths. However, not all caterpillars are harmless. In the UK, there are several species of caterpillars that can cause severe harm if touched or ingested. This comprehensive guide aims to provide information about the most poisonous caterpillars found in the UK, their characteristics, and the potential risks they pose.

1. Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)

The Oak Processionary Moth is a native of southern Europe, but it has recently become established in the UK. Its name derives from its unique behavior of moving in nose-to-tail processions. This caterpillar is covered in tiny, venomous hairs that contain a toxin called thaumetopoein. Contact with these hairs can cause skin rashes, itching, and eye irritation. In some cases, it may lead to more severe allergic reactions or difficulty breathing.

2. Brown-tail Moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)

The Brown-tail Moth is a common species found in the UK, particularly in coastal areas. Its caterpillar has distinctive tufts of brown hairs and is known for its communal nesting behavior. The hairs on this caterpillar contain a toxin called urticating hairs, which can cause skin irritation, rash, and respiratory problems if inhaled.

3. Pine Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa)

The Pine Processionary Moth is not native to the UK but has been accidentally introduced. It primarily affects pine trees and its caterpillar forms long, nose-to-tail processions. The caterpillar has urticating hairs that can cause skin rashes, itchiness, and eye irritation. In more severe cases, it can lead to allergic reactions and respiratory difficulties.


Encountering poisonous caterpillars in the UK can be a risk to both humans and pets. It is important to be aware of the potential dangers associated with these caterpillars and take necessary precautions, such as avoiding direct contact and seeking medical advice if exposed to their toxins. By understanding their characteristics and habitats, individuals can better protect themselves and minimize the chances of encountering these poisonous caterpillars.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: How can I identify if a caterpillar is poisonous?

A: Poisonous caterpillars often have vibrant colors, spiky hairs, or distinctive markings. It is best to avoid touching any caterpillar unless you are certain of its species.

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

A: If you come into contact with a poisonous caterpillar, it is important to avoid touching your face or eyes. Wash the affected area with mild soap and water, and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

Q: Are all caterpillars in the UK poisonous?

A: No, not all caterpillars in the UK are poisonous. However, it is advisable to avoid direct contact with any caterpillar to minimize the risk of adverse reactions.

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