Sunday, September 25, 2011

Buck Moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia) - another “stinging” hair caterpillar!

Back in July when Matty and I were at Shawnee State Park, I was sitting under a huge oak tree watching a snake move through the grass. I leaned back, propping myself up on my arms, and glanced back by my hand. About a half inch from my little finger was a caterpillar decorated with what looked like spiky white snowflakes. I quickly moved my hand out of his path. We learned years ago what can happen when you touch fuzzy wuzzy cool looking caterpillars--ouch (click here for a post about the fuzzy yellow American Dagger Moth Caterpillar)! Since then, any unidentified caterpillar is labeled “stranger danger” and is hands off until identified. Jenny had a field guide in the nature center and quickly discovered what he was...a Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia). Good thing I moved my hand. Just like our friend the American Dagger Moth, the Buck Moth is covered in hollow hairs/spines that are attached to poison glands. Simply brushing against one of those hairs is enough to break the hair and have its contents spill directly into your skin. The toxins in the venom can cause painful red welts and even vomiting.

Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)
You can just look at all these bells and whistles and tell this guy packs a punch--a purpley-black body covered in yellow dots, spiky white and yellow barbs, a maroonish, dark red head...and to top that off, red and black multi-branched spines (that look like really sharp thorns)!

...one of the kids lifted this prickly guy on a stick to take him to the edge of the lawn at the nature center. We didn't want him to get squished...and we didn't want him to unintentionally leave any of those barbs in someone's skin!

...check out those dark spikes...makes me think of tiny locust tree thorns. (I only had my big lens with me. I wish I had had my macro so I could have gotten a close-up of those barbs. You can find a nice close-up here, though.)

...the red abdominal prolegs add to this guy's snappy attire!

When I saw this caterpillar in June, he was probably looking for a place to burrow into the ground to transform into a pupae. The pupal stage lasts through summer and according to the Ohio State University Entomology fact sheet (found here), Buck Moth adults emerge about now and will fly through Indian summer in October. Their name, "Buck" Moth, derives from the fact their flying season is the same time as the rutting season of the whitetail deer.


Buck Moth Caterpillars are very famous in New Orleans...
Buck Moth Caterpillars are relatively rare in our town, but apparently they are well know in the Big Easy, where the mass dropping of Buck Moth Caterpillars from Live Oak trees onto unsuspecting victims below is an annual right of passage! The story is here and here and here!

Duct tape to the rescue!
I read this quick fix on lots of sites: to remove the broken spines from your skin, apply and repeatedly strip duct tape (or Scotch tape) over the affected area. Once the venom is in, though, there's not much you can do. Ice helps and many sites recommend a paste of baking soda and water (here).

24 comments:

Randy Emmitt said...

Kelly,

I have seen these in singles. I read the articles from NO, not something that happens around here. I found a hornworm today and looked for other caterpillars but no luck. Thanks for the laugh.

Carole Meisenhelter said...

amazing; yes almost decorative like a coral in the reefs.

holdingmoments said...

A dangerous beauty. Never heard of these before; great captures Kelly.

It certainly packs enough warning to advise anyone to keep away though.

Elaine said...

This is one of those creatures that looks like it was created by a fantasy artist. It's little spikes look like syringes--definitely enough to give you nightmares! I've never seen one before, but now if I do, thanks to you, I will know to avoid it!

Sue said...

Mother Nature sure spent some time creating that little guy. Beautiful. And great info on a creature I would have never guessed could do some harm to us. Thanks!

Bob Bushell said...

So close. Beautiful moth.

TexWisGirl said...

he's like his own little fascinating forest. :)

Marco Alpha said...

Hello Kelly,
Very nice to see this prickly caterpillar. He looks very special, amazing that you have put him in the frame. Well done!!

Greetings, Marco

Alan Pavey said...

That's a fine looking caterpillar!! Interesting read, we have a few caterpillars here that do similar things, so I found out last year when one dropped from an Oak tree on to my arm! :-)

Wanda..... said...

He looks dressed for Christmas! Will watch for the flying Buck Moth!

Montanagirl said...

Wow, I have never heard of these! He looks beautiful, but I believe I'd cut a wide path around him! Great photos, Kelly.

Grizz………… said...

Really fine shots, macro or not—and a neat post. I see one of these outlandish critters every so often, and like you, have learned to look and not touch until you know what you're dealing with when it comes to caterpillars—not to mention certain beetles.

Incidentally, a great old county remedy that works pretty good at neutralizing a lot of stings—honeybee, wasp, yellow jacket, caterpillar, etc., even jellyfish—is to quickly slice an onion and rub the juice over the stung area.

The duct tape trick is not only good for removing those fine hair "stingers" of caterpillars, but also works on the fine, hairlike needles of cactus. I have a prickly pear in the yard which has big, easily visible (and avoided) needles, plus needles so fine they're practically invisible—several of which sooner or later end up on your hand when you are working around the plants. If the broken off end of the needle isn't below skin level, you can rub lightly with a bit of duct tape and pull out the needles.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Great pictures and wonderful information. I had no idea the spines could be dangerous that is a great tip.

Regards
Guy

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi There, I'm back after a few weeks off from blogging. Hope you are doing okay. I have missed all of my blogging friends --but needed that break!

I have never in all of my life seen a caterpillar like that. You got some awesome photos.

Hugs,
Betsy

freebird said...

He sounds vicious! I didn't know they were so bad to touch.

Larry said...

Nice photos-really something to look at. That's something new to me.I'll have to consider that the next tim I plan on picking up a caterpillar!

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Outstanding photos, Kelly! I have never seen one of these before. Now the yellow one, I have encountered those. last year one of the boys in my Sunday School class found one at one of our outings. I had him put it down quickly, and fortunately he didn't seem to react to it! They are fascinating creatures!

KAT said...

wow that is so unusual looking...but pretty...reminds me of snow flake crystals. does this mean we will have a lot of snow this winter ?
KAT

Caroline said...

My, what an beautiful creature! You got some fab shots - good that you got your hand out of the way in time!

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone. Isn't he a strange one...very cool, though. I'm glad we don't have to endure what the NOLA residents have to in spring! It would be horrible to have one land in your shirt collar...and get stuck! Ouch...

Grizz...thank you for the the tips! I didn't know about slicing an onion and rubbing the juice over the stung area. I will definitely do it and pass it on! Sounds like a great way to get out prickly pear thorns. You're so lucky to have a native plant in your yard! The only place I've seen them is in a cemetery along the Ohio near Shawnee. The ground is very sandy there. Up until then I'd never seen one in Ohio...

Kathiesbirds said...

Oh MY word! I had never heard of such a thing! amazing and scary! this would make a great horror movie! What an interesting Caterpillar. Those spines are impressive and the colors! wow! Who ever thought up this creature! Love the analogy to the acacia tree spines!

Debo Boddiford said...

WOW...What a caterpillar! Great photos!

Chad said...

Very cool! Looks vicious!

Priscilla King said...

Toxic. You didn't know how much you DO want him to get squished! Populations are growing, and they're a major nuisance.