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Encounters with certain arthropod species, like roaches, scorpions and centipedes, in the wild can give even the boldest outdoorsmen a brief scare. In some cases, the arthropods we find outdoors can do far more than cut a frightening figure, some can also inflict painful and/or potentially dangerous bites, stings, or both.

Luckily, 200,000 years of evolution has allowed humans to instinctively recognize and avoid many wild animals that pose a potential threat to human safety and well-being. It has been theorized that the widespread fear of spiders, scorpions, cockroaches and many other arthropods is actually a behavioral adaptation that keeps humans safe from sustaining bug-related injuries, or from contracting diseases transmitted by bugs.

There exists one group of insects that, despite the venom that some species produce, are not generally recognized as a threatening or unpleasant group of creepy crawlies. These insects are caterpillars, AKA moth/butterfly larvae, and while most species cannot harm humans, there exists several species in Massachusetts that can.

The American dagger moth caterpillar and the black-waved flannel moth caterpillar each look fuzzy as mature moths, but as caterpillars, many people cannot help but to touch these cute-looking fuzzballs. Unfortunately, making contact with either of these two caterpillars can send people to the ER.

The American dagger moth is the largest of its family at 2 inches in body length. This moth can bee seen flying in Massachusetts between Spring and Fall, but during the late Summer and early Fall seasons, caterpillars of this species become abundant in suburban, urban and rural regions of the state. These caterpillars possess almost entirely yellow-colored bodily hair fibers when they are young, but they later develop black tufts at either end of their body. Most envenomation cases involving this species are caused when humans unknowingly step on or lean into them while outdoors or indoors. The black tufts break off and stick into human skin like quills, causing lasting pain. Some could argue, that the black-waved flannel moth caterpillar causes more alarming medical conditions after their white tufts become embedded into human skin. This species’ sting causes radiating pains throughout the limbs, nausea, muscle spasms, seizures and more. Obviously, their presence in residential areas makes children playing outdoors particularly vulnerable to these caterpillar envenomations.

Have you ever found and odd looking fuzzy object near your home that you now think may have been a caterpillar?