Look, but don’t touch buck moth caterpillars


RISON — “’Whoa! Don’t touch that!’ are the last words you’ll hear before the stinging sensation begins,” said Les Walz, Cleveland County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“For the past week or two, we have been experiencing a larger than normal population emergence of the buck moth caterpillar,” he said.

So why the hands-off warning?

“Let’s just say that if you choose to handle one of these black, fuzzy, caterpillars that it will probably be what granddaddy termed, ‘a life lesson’.” Walz said. “And it will probably be the last time that you shake hands with one because this introduction will be seared into your brain forever.”

Beware the spines

This caterpillar bristles with branched spines along the top and center of the back. The spines are attached to venom glands and can deliver a nasty sting. The sting may induce immediate pain, severe itching, swelling, and redness.

“My personal experience included a light stinging sensation that escalated to a severe stinging sensation with numbness within 30 minutes,” Walz said. “The numbness lasted about an hour.”

“Lesson learned!” Walz said, adding that some may experience symptoms lasting a day to over a week.

The buck moth is a member of the giant silkworm family which includes the familiar green luna moth and has a wingspan of 2-3 inches. This moth can be found in oak forests from Florida to Louisiana, north through Missouri and all the way to Maine.

The buck moth is attractive, with boldly patterned wings that are mainly black wings with a narrow white band running through the center of the wing. The female’s body is black, but the male has a red tip on his abdomen. The buck moth differs from other moths in that it usually takes flight during daylight hours. Moths can usually be seen in the fall months when they have emerged and begin looking for suitable mates and the appropriate egg laying site. Females will lay a cluster of eggs on the preferred food source, live oaks. Other oak species may serve as a nursery as well.

They’re hungry

On a final note: buck moth caterpillars can eat a significant amount of leaves from oak and other species. Some trees may look like they have been ravaged to the point of no return. However, this is usually not the case. In most cases, the trees leaf back out and continue on without any problems.

For more information on forestry or insects, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of

Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national

origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected

status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.