One Mean Stinging Caterpillar: The Saddleback

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The other day I was walking through the garden, minding my own darn business, when all of a sudden I was struck with a pain in my leg. It felt like dozens of shards of glass had just entered my thigh! It shot through my body so quickly, I hardly knew what hit me. Confused, and holding my now throbbing leg, I looked around to see if I could figure out what the heck had just happened!

And then, I spotted it. A bright little caterpillar, silently crawling up a leaf stalk I’d just walked past. I must have brushed up against it, I thought. Upon a closer examination, my suspicions were confirmed as I gawked at all of the tiny piercing spikes jutting out from every appendage on it’s body.

That was one mean looking caterpillar!

I was quickly reminded of the pain, and began hopping around the yard, begging for one more plantain leaf to be growing somewhere! I found a small one near the pine trees, and grabbed it up to make a poultice for the sting.

As I sat at my computer desk with the wad of chewed up plantain on my throbbing thigh, I hopped online to see what I could find out about that spiky little caterpillar I’d just had the misfortune of touching. It was a Saddleback Caterpillar, something I’d never in my life seen or heard of before then.

One Mean Stinging Caterpillar: The Saddleback

Once the pain had subsided, I went back outside to collect the creature in a small jar. Then I called the kids over to examine it from inside it’s prison, and warned them not to touch one if they ever came upon another. I showed them the swollen rash on my leg, and explained how painful it was.

I was glad it was myself who was stung this time, and not one of the kiddos. Man, I’m starting to get a little paranoid in the garden! I’m wearing gloves at all times from now on for sure, ’cause I’ve learned the hard way that it isn’t just bees I need to be watching out for!

Update: Aug. 21, 2016

Today I removed nine saddleback caterpillars from our Montmorency cherry tree. Supposedly they won’t do significant damage to garden plants or trees, but they sure have eaten their fair share of cherry tree leaves. I’ve never seen them in numbers like this… really I’ve only discovered single saddlebacks here and there around our property. And I’ve never seen them in a tree, only on weeds. I thought it fascinating to find so many of these caterpillars in one place. Hopefully I got them all so the kids don’t have a bad encounter like I did back when I originally posted this article five years ago!

Have you ever been stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar?

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About Kendra 1035 Articles
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.


  1. Oh, yes, I have been stung several times in my lifetime by saddlebacks or packsaddles, we call them both names. I get nervous in early fall because that’s when they are most numerous and I’m outside a lot. Never know what plant they’ll be on. I recently found one on some raspberry foliage, and have seen them on Aucuba shrubs more than once. Never have treated the sting, it goes away in a few hours for me, but oddly the hair follicles in the stand up like little bumps. I currently have a saddleback in a jar – it has spun an ugly little cocoon.

  2. Yes, I have been stung by one on the top of the foot wearing flip flops in the garden. (No more) It really hurt bad. Ours was in the corn patch. We call them a pack saddle here in KY. Mean little things!!

  3. I found a saddleback caterpillar- a tiny one- on the mulberry tree the day we were butchering chickens. At the time I didn’t know what it was or how painful it could be, but the kids collected it and we looked it and were disappointed it just turns into an ugly brown moth. Anyway the problem for gardeners is that they will eat just about anything and are found on the underside of leaves, so like in your case, you feel it before you see it. I read a lot of people have to go to the er because of the stinging! Glad that wasn’t the case with you 🙂

  4. We have a run in with one of those before. We tried every thing and then someone told us to cover the area with tape and then slowly pull the tape off. What that does is remove the little “hairs” that are stinging. Now I keep a roll of scotch tape just for this little creature.

  5. we were camping and my daughter started screeming.we saw a black catepillar on the ground by her and she was holding her foot. when we looked at her foot there was a red mark in the shape of the catepillar.we were shocked because we didnt know that some catepillars do sting and it really hurts. the mark didnt go away for a couple of weeks.i really enjoy your web site. what state do you live in?

  6. EWWWW! I’ve never seen one like that, looks like something from out of the ocean. Glad to hear it didn’t do any more damage than what it caused you, but sorry for your pain.

    Did the Plantain help? I may need to plant some of it around here.

  7. Ouch! He does look mean! My toddler was just stung by a caterpillar this week (but it didn’t look nearly that wild, just a fuzzy black and white one. Her chest, neck, arms and hands were covered with a poison-ivy looking rash that kept her up all night itching and crying. We gave her three oatmeal baths and covered her with plantain salve but it still took several days for the rash to go away. Who knew!?

  8. That’s one interesting caterpillar! I’m always amazed at the Lord’s creativity. The bugs where you live are much more curious than what we have in the Northwest.

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