— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 7 March 2010, was last revised on 29 November 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 11:03(12).
Several years ago, in conjunction with my research on the puss caterpillar, I asked visitors to the BugsInTheNews website for personal reports of experiences with puss caterpillar stings. Before long. thousands of emails poured in.
Sting victims told how they, their spouses, small children, even babies, reacted to the stings. Many had visited clinics or emergency rooms, fearing a life-threatening reaction, and reported on the treatments, examinations, and diagnostic tests they’d received in such settings.
A few described the first aid measures and home remedies they’d tried, and how well they worked. Some of these measures were said to provide immediate relief, shorten recovery time, speed up the removal of lingering blemishes, and reduce scarring. At first I read these reports with skepticism. But similar reports kept coming in.
In parallel with all this I was receiving, with regularity, calls and e-mails from individuals who had recently been stung and were in pain, who were seeking information on how to deal with the stings. I realized that, by collecting such information, I had become morally responsible for sharing it, including the remedies that had been shared with me, as those measures might be of help to others. It is in that spirit that the following materials are made available here. Please note that I am not a physician, and nothing in the following pages should be used to diagnose or treat a medical condition, or to replace or supplant advice provided by a medical professional. Just like starting a diet or exercise routine, it is always important to consult your doctor. Whether it be reading Medifast reviews or looking into a local gym make sure you are doing the right thing.
For most who are stung by a puss caterpillar, the untreated lesion is acutely painful for several hours or days, followed by mild to moderate discomfort for an additional period of time. According to many of the reports emailed to me, immediate pain relief can be obtained by using tape to remove the spines.
USE TAPE TO REMOVE THE MICROSCOPIC SPINES
Sting victims reported that they gently pressed fresh, clean adhesive tape against the lesion, then lifted it off the skin. This is repeated, again with fresh, clean tape, several times. The kind of tape varied, but included SCOTCH brand magic mending tape, ordinary duct tape, and medical bandaging tape. Caution: using tape on ultra-sensitive skin is inadvisable; be very careful with Infants, children, and elders subject to skin tears.
Those who applied tape immediately after the sting occurred reported good to excellent results. Surprisingly, similar levels of pain relief were reported even when tape was applied hours or days following the sting event.
COMMERCIAL FACIAL PEELS
Some authorities recommend using commercial facial peels to remove the spines from the wound site. None of the sting victims who have contacted me reported that they had used such peels for that purpose, so it is not possible to comment, at this time, on how well it works. However, one should keep in mind that peels, waxes, or similar methods tend to produce a strong adhesion to the skin, and the act of removing the peel, wax, etc., from the skin can result in skin tears in susceptible individuals.
In December 2009 a call was received from a fellow (who did not identify where he was calling from) who reported that he had used WD-40 on several puss caterpillar stings on his hand. He’d been told to do this by a friend, who indicated that it was “common knowledge” that WD-40 (a well-known automotive and household penetrating oil), sprayed on a puss caterpillar sting, provided immediate relief from pain. He told me he’d sprayed WD-40 on his hand, as his friend suggested, and that the pain ceased immediately.
Some of the ingredients in WD-40 are considered hazardous, and are not approved for use on human skin. I cannot recommend it, for that reason, but the idea that using it to relieve the pain caused by insect stings was “common knowledge” intrigued me. An Internet search quickly proved that WD-40 is, as a matter of fact, regularly touted for use in a multitude of venues, some of which (including relieving the pain caused by insect stings) are not recommended by its manufacturer.
Besides using tape to remove the spines, many reported that poultices would draw out the puss caterpillar venom, and some even stated that when the tape did not seem to work, poultices did. One of the first reports of this kind was sent in by Susan J., of Norfolk, VA:
“Hi, Jerry. Yesterday I emailed you about being stung by one of these puss caterpillars. I was on my front porch, reached down to pick up my umbrella, and felt a sting on the inside of my hand. When I looked to see what it was I noticed one of these caterpillars crawling on my umbrella. I knew right away it had stung me. I ran into the house and immediately put my hand under cold water. Then I grabbed a piece of ice. While holding the ice in my hand I picked up a jar and went back on the porch to capture the critter that injured my hand, for identification purposes. My hand, like many others have reported, continued to burn with pain. I called poison control and they recommended ice and antihistamines. I tried that, without relief. I went on line, found your website, and tried using tape to get the stingers out. My hand, 5 hours later, still burned as much as before. The tape provided no relief for me…
I then called a friend, who is a pediatric nurse, and asked if she had any remedies I hadn’t tried. She told me to make a poultice of fresh ginger root and potato and put it on the sting. I purchased fresh ginger root [available at most grocery stores in the produce section], chopped it up along with a piece of fresh potato, put the chopped mixture on my palm with a gauze pad over it and wrapped it with gauze tape [this can be improved upon by using plastic wrap, to prevent the poultice from drying out too quickly]. To secure things in place I placed a rubber glove over my hand and cut the finger tips out for more mobility and comfort. Within an hour the burning sensation started to ease up. With every hour that passed the burning and stinging lessened, instead of increasing as before. The potato and ginger drew out the toxins just as she said they would. Thank heaven, something was finally working! I was pleasantly surprised when I awoke the next morning and my hand was completely normal. I think this was a great remedy for stings and wanted to share it to help anyone from suffering from the pain that this can cause.” Susan J., Norfolk Virginia
Nearly all of the other poultices described later by readers had a base of raw or cooked potato. The most common addition to the basic potato poultice was raw ginger root. The poultice was held in place with a loose gauze dressing, sometimes covered with a loose plastic wrap. Sting victims reported chopping, shredding, or grating raw or cooked potato, either alone or in combination with raw ginger root (available in most grocery produce aisles). This mixture was pressed against the sting site and loosely wrapped with a gauze bandage. Some added a thin sheet of plastic, as a covering, to prevent the poultice from drying out. Results reported from those who had used this procedure have been positive. Cessation of pain, swelling, and scarring, was reported in most cases.
Links: (1) Puss Caterpillar General Information. (2) The Puss Caterpillar’s Stinging Apparatus. (3) Puss Caterpillar Extermination. (4) The Puss Caterpillar’s Natural Predators. (5). Puss Caterpillar Stings–Medical Interventions. (6) Puss Caterpillar Stings–Home Remedy First Aid Measures.
- Avilán, Luisana, et al. 2010. Description of envenomation by the “gusano-pollo” caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) in Venezuela. Invest Clin 51(1): 127 – 132.
- Bennett, Gary W. 2010. Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations 7th Edition. Purdue University.
- Borror, Donald J., and Richard E. White. 1970. A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company
- Bradley, Fern Marshall, et al. 2010. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way (Rodale Organic Gardening Books). Rodale Inc.
- Eagleman, David M. 2007. Envenomation by the asp caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis). Clinical Toxicology (2007) iFirst, 1–5.
- Epstein, Marc E. 1995. Evolution of locomotion in slug caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Zygaenoidea: Limacodid group). J. Res. Lepidoptera 34:1-13.
- Foot, Nathan Chandler. 1922. Pathology of the Dermatitis caused by Megalopyge opercularis, a Texan caterpillar. JEM 35(5): 1 May 1922.
- Khalaf, Kamel T. 1974. Nonasceptic Wheat Germ Diet for Megalopyge opercularis (Lepidoptera: Megalopygidae). The Florida Entomologist 57(4):377-381.
- Klotz, John H. et al. 2009. Animal Bites and Stings with Anaphylactic Potential. J. Emerg. Med. 36(2):148-156.
- Lifton, Bernice. 2005. Bug Busters: Poison-Free Pest Controls for Your House and Garden. Square One Publishers.
- Mallis, Arnold, Stoy Hedges (Ed.) et al. 2011. The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, 10th Edition. The Mallis Handbook Company.
- Neck, Raymond W. 1976. Lepidopteran Foodplant Records from Texas. J. Res. Lepidoptera 15(2):75-82.
- Steen. Christopher J. et al. Arthropods in dermatology. J. Am. Dermatol. 50(6):819-842.
- Stewart, Amy. 2011. Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
— Questions? Corrections? Comments? BUG ME RIGHT NOW! Feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also leave a comment in the space provided below.
My father was stung by a puss caterpillar today after leaning the underside of his arm against a fence railing. Within a minute, large loop-like welts appeared on his arm. After he washed the area with cool water, the marks darkened and looked as if a small toy truck tread had been burned into the area. Thanks to this site, we now know what caused the markings!
6/11/2010 I had a caterpillar bite appx 3 weeks ago. At the time I did not know to use tape. I cleaned it well, use alcohol then hydrocortisone creme. The red blotchy rash never went away completely. Over the last 2 days the rash has become itchy and raised again. Today I am having the same type of headache I had the day I got bit which lasted for appx 36 hours. I have takem medication such as advil for the headache but it will not go away completely. It does not look infected but seems to be a rash I am having a hard time getting rid of. Any suggestions?
Sorry for taking so long to respond. I’ve been all over Texas the past few days and my backlog of comments to tend to has ballooned out of sight.
Please update me on your headaches. Have they continued, or–now after three more days–are they better. It is possible that some of the microscopic spines in your skin have continued to leak venom into the surrounding tissue. Fortunately, even though you did not use tape initially, you can still go through that procedure and realize benefits from it, as the spines are still there and–based on the fact you are still suffering some ill effects from the venom–still producing problems for you. Use a clean strip of tape (any kind will do, just make sure it is not so adhesive that you damage your skin when pulling it off), press it over the sting site gently but firmly, let it stay in place a few seconds, then pull it gently off. Repeat ten or fifteen times using a fresh strip of tape each time, but take care not to damage your skin in the process. Sensitive skin may not permit you to do this more than a couple of times. You will know right away if the process is helping.
Sometimes the puss caterpillar sting site takes months, even more than a year, to fully heal. The only thing I know of that helps speed up the healing is Tamanu oil, applied several times a day in very small amounts. You can purchase Tamanu oil over the Internet from a host of sources, and the prices–and shipping and handling charges–vary just as much. Many sources combine Tamanu oil with olive oil, 50:50, and sell 30ml for a fairly high price, to buyers who do not read the fine print and think they are getting 30ml of Tamanu oil when the bottle only has 15ml of pure product.
Though Tamanu oil does seem to work at speeding up the healing process, some individuals have allergic reactions to it. Nothing serious seems to result, as long as the oil is not overused. Still, we are reluctant to recommend it without warning that it can, in susceptible individuals, produce a rash. My own experiences with producers of this oil has been spotty, at best. The extraction process is done in unsupervised laboratories with little or no quality control. The result is a product that varies considerably from one batch to another.
Thaks for the informative article. Paired with images it really helped us to figure out what insect bit my boyfriend. His hand went numb and his armpit area hurt. I was freaking out and before calling 911 (since he refused to go to the doctor) I went online to see if I could fint a picture of insect bite that would match what he had on his arm. Now we are both relieved, even though he is in pain. Thank you very much!
My 10 year old daughter was stung by a puss caterpillar today. We were at our summer home near the coast of GA. I have never seen one of these and had no clue what it was, but she was screaming and in intense pain. Soon she complained of the pain radiating to her armpit. Within an hour we saw the red halo around the sting. My older daughter googled caterpillar stings and learned that we should use masking tape to remove the hairs. This was done. We immediately gave her Benadryl and have applied cortisone cream throughout the day. She is still complaining of stinging approx. 5 hours after the bite. We are so glad we found this website. We bagged the catepillar. He’s slightly whiter than those we’ve seen, but we are pretty sure this is it. As I read about it I was reminded that we saw several moths in our house over the weekend. This explains it! Thank you so much.
My 6 lb. Maltese dog was stung two weeks ago on his tail. After a high vet bill and 3 medications, he is still having swelling and blisters (2 weeks have passed). Then I decided to look at the site under a magnifier. I found spines? which looked like tiny black hairs (my dog is all white) and I began to pull them out with tweezers. I then covered the area with Neosporin and gauze. I searched on line to see what would leave such a thing and the Puss caterpillar was the only thing I could find that left numerous spines and caused blisters. Is it possible for a dog to get stung and if so, am I treating it correctly? The Vet never looked close, just said “something stung him”! Any suggestions to help him heal would be appreciated!.
Sorry to hear about your pet. Yes, pets can be stung by these caterpillars, and you appear to be doing the best thing to treat the sting. If you have not used tape to assist in removing the spines, please consider doing so, as that approach seems to be particularly helpful.If the wound site is blistered badly, tape may not help quite so much, and may even cause some damage to new tissue, which is probably why you used tweezers. Good luck with your treatment. Hopefully your pet will heal soon.
Please keep me posted on things.
Potato and ginger worked great on my Puss Cat. sting. I tried the tape first but no relief and now that the mixture as been applied to the area, pain instantly went down. Thank you!!!
I was lifing the lid off a two part plastic dog house and under the lip was a puss caterpillar. It nailed two of my fingers good. This website helped because it gave me hope that the pain would subside and I did not need to go to ER. I was stung at about 3pm, applied the ginger root and potato beginning about 5pm. I didn’t get relief right away. At bed time I was feeling better. The next day I was using my fingers again, good as new. What wicked poison this little critter has. My lymph glands under my arm did hurt. No wound or scar or anything like that. Thanks for this information.
Editor’s Note: Glad to hear you were able to use the ginger and potato poultice and that you obtained relief. Did you also use tape to remove the spines? That is as important as applying the poultice, maybe even more important. Keep me posted.
Two days ago, on Thursday August 4, 2011 at 7:00pm, I was walking my dog in the neighborhood on the same route I have taken for the past 9 months. When I was near to home, I noticed a furry creature half way under my tee shirt sleeve, so naturally, being afraid of bugs, I attempted to brush it off. This took 4 or 5 swpies of my left hand as it had adhered to my arm. Feeling like I had been bitten by this furry slug-looking thing, instead of stomping on it, I decided to wrap it up in a plastic bag that I was carrying and take it home to investigate. By the time I had gotten home, the pain was increasing and making me nervous.
I took some pictures of the creature and I showed my husband the bug, and told him how I was feeling. We decided I should take an antihistamine and go out for dinner. By 8:30pm we were contemplating going to the ER as the pain in my arm was intense, and it was radiating into my armpit and chest; also the fingers on my left hand (remember I had to swipe this thing 4-5 times) also felt like they were burning. I posted the pictures I had taken on to Facebook and asked if anyone knew what this “thing” was. Within 10 minutes I had replies (most joking about my luck) but one gave me my answer and directed me to this wonderful webite! We got hone I and began to read about the Puss Caterpillar…
OK, as suggested, I had done the antihistamine, I used the tape to remove all the spines, I took Tylenol… nothing was helping. It’s 10:00pm and it looks like I’m in for a very long, miserable night. Then I read Susan J. from Norfolk VA’s post that her pediatric nurse friend recommended a poultice of fresh ginger root and potato. Wanting to do anything to end this torture, I drove to an all night grocery store and spent 73 cents on another “remedy”. 10:30pm – I got home, made the poultice, applied it to my arm and covered it with a large bandaid. I went back on this website to learn more about this thing, and by 11:00pm I felt like I might just be able to actually get some rest! I slept through the night and the pain was just “mild” in the morning, so I only took Tylenol. Worked through the day, and at 6:00pm decided to apply another poultice. My friends, the pain is COMPLETELY GONE today, however, I am sporting a new rectangular tattoo on my arm!
Thank you pediatric nurse friend of Susan J. from Norfolk, VA for the cure, and Susan J for sharing it!!!!!!!
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what about prid salve, it is a drawing salve. might pull them out and help with pain?
good information. had no idea these existed.would like to see more info on where they r most prevalent in the u.s. r they in all states,more so in warmer climates etc. thanks
We have used meat tenderizer for years for bee stings. It might work here too. Make a paste, apply to sting. It is a staple in our camping gear!
I would like to know where these puss caterpillars have been found? Have they been found in B.C., Canada? Oklahoma, USA?
This is an urgent request of information.
My sister got stung by the puss caterpillar around two in the afternoon yesterday. She’s done everything. Iced her arm and hand, baking soda and water, tape method, and even went to the ER got a steroid shot, pain pills, another shot- the whole nine… She’s still in very credible pain. So my question is:
How long does pain/swelling/redness from an asp last?
I was stung by a puss caterpillar last night around 11:30p. I live in New Orleans. At first, I had no idea what had happened, only that my wrist was on FIRE and was starting to turn bright red. I applied lanacaine and Benadryl at first, then went to investigate and see if I could find the source, and that little bastard was on the ground where I had been sitting. The pain travelled up my arm and I got really sick, but I grated some potato and applied a poultice overnight. It still aches pretty badly, but I’m going to live. Haha! Thank you so much for your information! It was a huge help!
i got stung and i live alone so i had to treat it myself i used baking soda and lavender oil it worked very well after i ioced it for about 5 minuts after the sting
Well….Metairie , LA is where I was stung today!!!!
Positively identified puss by photos. 11 hours later and still hurting!
Swollen ankle and leg as well as hand I used to brush him off!
I am a thin active healthy person and never get sick. I AM CONSIDERING THE ER HERE, despite the fact that I work there,for iv stuff. Please don t take a chance……This is a serious sting!
Good luck with the home remedies but don t wait too long!
I got stung by the puss caterpillar on the back of my left leg back In September…it had fallen inside my car one day when I parked under a tree, so I actually ended up sitting on it. I felt the burn from the sting right away. Anyway, I went to the doctor and got it treated. Now it is March, and I still sometimes feel an itching or burning sensation from the area. I can even still see the outline of the caterpillar on my leg. Every once in a while the area will welt up and start itching like crazy again. Is this a normal thing for caterpillar stings to do? This originally happened 6 months ago…should I go see a doctor about this?
I have searched for some treatment option and this is the only place that helped. Over on the west coast we have wolly bear caterpillars, my son was stung a few days ago and is very sick. He had a flaming red yellow oozing rash last night I used the potato ginger poultice and his skin looks great! he still has horrible nausea and headache though.