When you’re snorkeling, you’re wise to watch out for the wana, or sea urchins with the sharp spikes. Although the wana mind their own business on the bottom of the beach (there’s never been a reported case of them actually chasing anyone), those nasty spikes can poke you, injecting you with a poison that irritates and inflames the skin. Ouch.
But did you know that the the nettle caterpillar (Darna pallivitta) is armed with bristly spines that can sting? People can suffer itching, a persistent rash, welts and blisters lasting a couple of days. What’s more, heavy infestations of the pest can defoliate plants in a few days. That’s why cities occasionally spray for them with a pesticide that does no harm to humans.
First discovered on the Big Island at an ornamental palm nursery in Hilo, the caterpillar is now established in Waiakea, Kea’au, Kurtistown, and Hawaiian Paradise Park, among other communities. Left to mature, stinging caterpillars become the Asian moth.
Photo by the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.