Missouri nature lovers spot venomous caterpillar, one man shares his warning

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 9:14 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A soft and fuzzy caterpillar could leave you with a nasty sting.

A few nature lover groups across Missouri say they have spotted a few of these venomous creatures this fall. The Missouri Department of Conservation says they are not necessarily rare across the Ozarks, but they can be pretty rare to encounter. The MDC says they can often be pretty secretive.

There are many types of venomous caterpillars, or often called “stinging caterpillars.” The southern flannel moth caterpillar is one type of stinging caterpillar that can be found in the Ozarks.

One Midwest man said his encounter cost him a trip to the emergency room.

“I went to move a lawn chair into the shade on an open patio,” said Keith Schoonover. “When I grabbed the lawn chair, it was on it, and I did not even know it was on my hand. I only had a hold of it for maybe five seconds and when I let go of the chair, approximately thirty seconds later, I started to feel in the palm of my hand like I had been stung by a bee.”

Schoonover said he then noticed it on the ground. He said he had not seen that type of caterpillar before. After just a few moments, Schoonover said that “stinging” sensation quickly went from irritating to excruciating.

”It went directly to the bone, which really surprised me,” he said. “It literally felt like my hand was broken.”

Schoonover said the pain only got worse. He then went to an emergency room.

”It started in the hand, it went up the forearm, all the way into my armpit and then into my chest on the left side,” he said. “So that had me a little concerned being that close to my heart.”

Doctors at the hospital gave him a few shots, steroids, and antibiotics. Schoonover said the pain lasted for at least 12 hours, but it eventually went away.

The MDC says stinging caterpillars are not equipped with a stinger like a bee or a wasp. Instead, their hairs or bristles cause the “stinging” sensation.

If you are out in the woods and feel something drop onto you from a tree, the MDC says it is best to stop and look around first. The department says if it is a stinging caterpillar, forcefully brushing it off makes it more likely to leave behind those stinging hairs or bristles.

”The thing that concerns me the most is the curiosity of children and pets,” Schoonover said.

He said his biggest advice is to leave it be or dispose of it.

The MDC says it is generally a good idea to leave fuzzy, hairy, or bristly caterpillars alone. While not all are venomous some people can still have sensitivity to their hair.

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