It is commonly assumed that the state of Arizona is home to a relatively small amount of insect species. This assumption arises from the mistaken belief that the dessert is too dry and lacking in vegetation and water to host a diverse population of insects; instead, many people believe that all insect species share a common need for warm and humid locations where vegetation and aquatic environments are abundant within the landscape. This is why well known tropical locations, like the Amazon jungle, are often associated with bugs, particularly, exotic-looking and dangerous bugs. However, the assumption that the Sonoran Desert of Arizona is too dry to allow for the thriving of numerous insect species could not be more wrong. In fact, many insect species that are commonly found in tropical and water-rich environments, such as cockroaches and termites, are also well represented in arid Arizona. Surprisingly, a large proportion of medically significant insect envenomation cases occur within Arizona. And some of these envenomation cases involve the last types of insects that the average person would expect. For example, a few years ago, an Arizona woman developed hives on her skin after being stung by a caterpillar within her own yard.
Back in October of 2015, a caterpillar species injected its venomous hairs into a woman’s skin when it landed on her back after falling from a tree located on her property. Upon feeling and witnessing the development of itchy hives over the affected area, the frightened woman phoned the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center hoping for some insight into her condition and the caterpillar species responsible. After naming the tree species where the caterpillar originated, as well as the physical appearance of the specimen, a doctor on duty at the center identified the caterpillar culprit as a tricolor buckmoth caterpillar. The venomous hairs on this insect cause more intense physical reactions when a caterpillar lands on a person after falling than it does when it crawls onto a person. This is because a fall results in more venomous hair penetrations into the skin. Luckily, the woman recovered and gathered her wits after a doctor talked her through first-aid procedures.
Have you ever spotted a caterpillar specimen in Arizona?