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Making It Grow: Dangerous Caterpillars

Setae on Oak Processional Caterpillars
By Kleuske via Wikimedia Commons
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  Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow! If you haven’t put your wool sweaters and jackets up in moth balls,  you better get with the program! Making It Grow’s go to gal for insect questions, Vicky Bertagnolli, recently reminded us that moths are out doing there thing-laying eggs that develop into caterpillars. For most of us, this is only a problem if we forget to protect our wool clothes, but some caterpillars are actually dangerous. Fortunately, they warn us to keep away by their striking hairy bodies. These hairs, called setae, are hollow tubes that if broken off release a toxin that can cause an itchy rash or a very, very painful reaction. The caterpillars don’t sting like a wasp or bee, the spine-like hairs simply break off when touched, often inadvertently. People working in the garden or simply sitting outside can accidently brush against these creatures and get an unhappy surprise.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.