To many people, caterpillars are adorable, fuzzy little bugs that chew on leaves and turn into beautiful butterflies. At first glance they seem like harmless critters; in fact, some seem like little works of art found in nature. But don't let their cuddliness fool you - some of these tiny terrors rank among the deadliest bugs in nature.
Some caterpillars, like the deceptively-named puss caterpillar, possess a dangerous edge. In fact, nature is full of wild-looking caterpillars that can kill you, or at the very least seriously ruin your hike. A good number of caterpillars have developed defense tactics to ward off predators, such as venom-charged spines on their backs that hurt those who come too close. These toxic insects just want to be left alone, so be sure to keep your distance if you see any on your next excursion into the wilderness. There is no dignity in getting taken down by a fuzzy and cute – albeit venomous – caterpillar.
Native to South America, this weird-looking bug is the larval form of the giant silkworm moth, and is considered to be one of the most dangerous caterpillars in the world. These little guys, whose formal name is lonomia obliqua, are responsible for hundreds of human casualties, and can cause a host of problems for anyone unlucky enough to bump into one who actually survives.
Whenever someone comes into contact with this caterpillar's hair-like bristles, they are immediately injected with a dose of dangerous toxins. A single touch can trigger a slew of symptoms in humans including vomiting, severe abdominal pain, and total kidney failure. So if you're ever in Brazil and see one of these crawling up to you, try not to pet it.
Even though they're named after cats and look remarkably like Tribbles, the puss caterpillar is actually the most venomous caterpillar in the world. Don Hall, an entomologist at the University of Florida, said a sting from one of these fluffy guys "feels like a bee sting, only worse. The pain immediately and rapidly gets worse after being stung, and can even make your bones hurt."
If that's not bad enough, it turns out venom isn't the only line of defense for the puss caterpillar. Amazingly, they have been known to fling their own excrement around to ward off encroaching parasites. Even worse news is that the population of puss caterpillars is booming, so if you find yourself on the east coast of the US, look out for these bad boys.
Saddleback caterpillars roam the east coast of the US, munching on leaves and keeping would-be predators at bay with their flashy coloration. Their distinctive saddle-shaped spot surrounded by bright green is a warning that this guy is super toxic.
The caterpillars are covered in urticating spines, which means they can inject their venom like a needle into anything that gets too close. Their venom can cause symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening, especially for people with asthma. Migraines and stomach pains are common, but more serious symptoms include anaphylactic shock, rupturing of red blood cells, and hemorrhaging. It's best you try to avoid these varmints at all costs.
These caterpillars are so good at eating weeds, they are used to clear out noxious ragwort. The toxins they absorb will remain in their body until adulthood, making them disgusting to most predators. Most humans have mild to moderate reactions to these bugs, but some people have it much worse. The sting of a cinnabar moth caterpillar can trigger asthma, hemorrhaging, and potentially lethal kidney failure. It can also attack the cartilage in the bones, causing extreme joint inflammation which can have permanent effects.
They are aposematic, meaning their bright orange coloration is a warning that they are unsafe to eat. The only ones brave enough to eat the cinnabar moth caterpillar are other cinnabar moth caterpillars, which is probably the most metal case of cannibalism in the animal kingdom.