Ouch! Stinging caterpillars on the rise in Texas this spring

Saturday, April 24, 2021
Ouch! Stinging caterpillars on the rise this spring
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They may be a nuisance and an encounter can be painful, but experts say their benefits are worth having them around.

Just about everybody seems to love butterflies, but their immature caterpillar forms aren't as popular, partially because some of the creeping critters can pack a powerful sting.

Experts are sharing that important reminder as the local caterpillar population is booming right now.

Molly Keck, an entomology expert with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, says different species of caterpillars are higher numbers than they typically are in the spring.

How to spot asps & other stinging caterpillars

Keck said the best advice is to not touch caterpillars at all. Caterpillars turn into moths or butterflies, which help with pollination of flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables. That means caterpillars have an important job!

"For most people, we don't like the caterpillars in our landscape, because they eat our plants," Keck said. "But the butterflies and the moths are pollinators, so the immature form is is harmful, whereas the adult form is beneficial."

In Texas, stinging caterpillars are commonly known as "asps." Chances are you've seen them or have been stung by them before.

"By and large, my rule of thumb is that if you see a caterpillar that has hairs on its body, don't touch it," Keck said. "It probably looks that way for a reason."

Asps may infest trees and shrubs around homes, schools and parks. They can cause a severe and painful sting. When they touch you, their venomous hairs stick into the skin and cause a severe burning sensation and rash.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension officials say you can treat a sting with an ice pack. You can also take oral antihistamines to help relieve the burning sensation and itching.

The state agency has a guide to help identify which caterpillars are harmful and which ones are harmless.

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