East Tulsa Family Victimized By Caterpillar Mystery - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

East Tulsa Family Victimized By Caterpillar Mystery

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A sycamore tussock moth caterpillar.  [Photo: Heather White] A sycamore tussock moth caterpillar. [Photo: Heather White]


TULSA, OK -- An East Tulsa woman says her family has fallen victim to an invasion of stinging caterpillars.  The question is, what kind of caterpillars?

Heather White says she and her family started noticing a lot of yellow caterpillars in and around their home a few weeks ago. 

She says they never bothered anyone until about two weeks ago, when her husband put a shoe on her 2-year-old son's foot. 

"My son started screaming like he was in real pain.  My husband pulls off the shoe," White said, "and sees a squished yellow caterpillar in it and realized, those little suckers sting.  My son's foot got red, a little rashy, and seemed like it burned."

White says something similar happened a few days ago.  Her son curled up in a blanket on the floor and started screaming.

"I shake out the blanket and see one of those caterpillars and notice his arm pit is turning red and bumps are appearing," said White.

White called an exterminator, then turned to the Internet for guidance.  She believes the caterpillars are asps, also known as puss caterpillars, which are the caterpillars of flannel moths and are known for painful stings.

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Dr. Richard Grantham, an entomologist at Oklahoma State University, isn't convinced.

Dr. Grantham says asps are not common to Oklahoma, but have turned up once in a while.

After viewing the photographs White sent to The News On 6, Dr. Grantham instantly identified the caterpillars as sycamore tussock moth caterpillars, or Halysidota harrisii. 

Dr. Grantham says sycamore tussock moth caterpillars are a common pest of sycamore trees in Oklahoma. 

He says they don't have urticating or rigid spines or hairs, although he says some people may be allergic to their hairs if they do puncture the skin.

"Usually a caterpillar will advertise itself if it's going to be dangerous.  If you see lots of spines, you probably shouldn't handle it," according to Dr. Grantham.

But, he also says spines don't always mean sting.  When in doubt, he says take a picture and send it to him at entoman@okstate.edu.

Heather White, meanwhile, says whatever kind of caterpillars she's dealing with are not pleasant.  She says she was stung on the foot when she stepped on one in the dark.

"I feel for my 2-year-old son that got stung twice!  He is very aware of them now and steers clear of them.  I give my kids a quarter for every one they squish."

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