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Saddleback Caterpillars: Tiny Critters That Pack A Venomous Punch

Casey White is an experienced cook and homesteader with years of experience in the kitchen making delicious foods from scratch.

Meeting A Saddleback Caterpillar In My Corn Patch

I remember the day I discovered the existence of Saddleback Caterpillars in my garden. I was walking around our raised beds where we were growing our corn. My arm brushed up against a corn stalk and suddenly my arm was on fire! I felt a stabbing feeling and wondered if I'd been stung by a wasp. Not being allergic to bees and wasps I continued around our corn patch examining how our plants were doing.

As I walked back around where I had felt that weird burning feeling, I accidentally brushed up against the corn stalks again as I headed for the gate to get out of the raised bed. Again, I felt a sharp pain and my arm started burning. There was a dime sized area on my arm that was bright red and it hurt. What was happening to me?

Stopping and examining the corn plant I brushed up against I was surprised by what I saw...

What the heck was this little monster?

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

I took some pictures to help me identify it. Walking back to the house I decided to figure out what the little insect was. Opening up my laptop I started searching descriptions of bugs that looked like the picture. It didn't take long to find a name.


Saddleback Caterpillars

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

Venomous little things and easy to identify

As I was searching, my arm continued to burn and tiny bumps started to form. Saddleback Caterpillars have venomous spines on them. When touched by something (like me) it causes a rash and can make a person sick to their stomach. The Saddleback Caterpillar I touched was so small it could fit on the top of my finger. It's crazy how something so small could cause such bad burning and a painful rash. It's spines had come off on my arm. They looked like tiny hairs and had continued to poison me. I didn't realize at the time part of what I was feeling were it's hairs as I scratched at the rash.

Saddleback Caterpillars are easy to identify by their "alien" appearance. They are distinctive with their bright green coloring and a brown "saddle" in the middle of it's body. They have poisonous spines on four tubercles located on it's body. Even though their poisonous spines can pack a punch, Saddleback Caterpillars are very tiny measuring only an inch long.


The rash I got from being stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar

My arm after being stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar

My arm after being stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar

They enjoy eating our corn plants

This particular caterpillar was eating the leaves of our corn plants. Over the course of the growing season for our corn I'd get stung over and over by them. I couldn't go near our full grown corn plants without brushing up against a Saddleback Caterpillar. They are so small and camouflaged that you can't see them easily. Our raised beds were built into the side of a mountain with a very steep incline. It was hard for me to keep my balance on the incline around the beds so inevitably I'd be brushing up against the plants trying not to fall.

Getting stung, how it feels, and treatment

I hate getting stung by Saddleback Caterpillars. I've been stung by bees and wasps and Saddleback Caterpillars can be worse wounds. I usually get an inch long patch of red bumps on my body (usually my arms) that lasts for a few days. It burns and hurts. The spines come off in my skin and I can feel them when I touch the spots where I get stung.

I learned quickly that using tape is a great way to get those spines out that are stuck in your skin. Put a piece of tape over the wound and then pull it off. Do this repeatedly until all the spines are gone. After getting stung it is best to wash the spot immediately to try to stop the spread of venom. An ice pack will help with the swelling and pain. I usually take an Advil or over the counter pain reliever if I'm feeling a lot of pain on days I get stung multiple times. Some may have more severe reactions to being stung and a visit to your doctor might be necessary.

There were a few times I did get stung in multiple spots in one trip and would feel nauseous later in the day with rashes wherever I got stung. These are nasty little insects to get stung by. Even though they are tiny, the nausea they caused was bad enough to make me skip dinner on a few occasions and put myself to bed early.

Usually we don't have very many of them in our corn patch and they don't do much damage to our plants. With no other bugs bothering our corn, we usually leave them alone. No need to use pesticides or other things on the plants to kill bugs if they aren't doing harm. I have learned to wear long sleeves when walking in the corn patch though.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

My own photo of a Saddleback Caterpillar that stung me.

Beautiful and fascinating creatures

Saddleback Caterpillars are fascinating to see in person. I'd never seen such a crazy caterpillar before. It was like watching an alien eat the leaves of my corn plants. I don't look forward to running into them again but since we plant corn every year it is inevitable they will show up. Gardening is always a learning experience and new insects and creatures living in the natural world are always popping up to teach me new lessons.

Video: Stung By A Saddleback Caterpillar

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© 2020 Casey White