The American dagger moth caterpillar is a fascinating creature with a distinctive appearance.
Known for its grayish-white setae on the wings and upper legs, this caterpillar’s markings on the forewing resemble daggers, giving it its unique name.
However, despite its interesting appearance, it is essential to be cautious as it is capable of delivering a painful sting when touched.
Stings from the American dagger moth caterpillar can result in various symptoms such as localized pain, redness, and swelling. If you unexpectedly come into contact with one, stay vigilant and monitor your symptoms.
It’s important know how to avoid stings and treat them in case of an encounter.
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar Overview
The American Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta americana) is known for its distinctive appearance.
It has a yellow to gray body covered with long black hairs, which are actually venomous bristles. These hairs give it a fuzzy, almost fluffy look.
These caterpillars are native to North America and can be found in various habitats like forests and residential areas.
They feed on a variety of trees and shrubs, including willow, maple, and elm.
Lifespan and Size
The American Dagger Moth Caterpillar has a short life cycle, typically lasting a few weeks to a couple of months.
As for their size, they grow up to 2 inches in length, making them an easily noticeable species of caterpillar.
|Feature||American Dagger Moth Caterpillar|
|Color||Yellow to gray|
|Body Hairs/Bristles||Long black|
|Typical Host Plants||Willow, maple, and elm|
|Size||Up to 2 inches in length|
- Distinctive yellow to gray color
- Fuzzy appearance due to long black hairs
- Venomous bristles causing stinging sensation
- Native to North America
A close relative to the American dagger moth is the fingered dragon moth, whose caterpillar has similar bristles on its body.
Diet and Host Plants
The American dagger moth caterpillar primarily feeds on the leaves of various deciduous trees. Some common tree species that serve as host plants include:
These trees can be found in deciduous woodlands and forests. The caterpillars tend to prefer leaves from maple, oak, and willow species.
For example, the American dagger moth caterpillar can be found on American hornbeam, chestnut, and basswood trees.
Deciduous trees favored by American dagger moth caterpillar:
|Maple||Sugar maple, red maple|
|Alder||Black alder, Speckled alder|
|Birch||River birch, yellow birch|
|Hickory||Shagbark hickory, shellbark hickory|
|Oak||White oak, red oak|
|Poplar||Tulip poplar, eastern cottonwood|
Stinging Mechanism and Effects
The American Dagger Moth Caterpillar’s venomous bristles can cause a stinging sensation when touched, which may result in skin irritation and discomfort.
Sometimes, the irritation can lead to rashes on the skin. It’s essential to handle these caterpillars with caution or avoid touching them altogether.
The American Dagger Moth caterpillar delivers a sting using its venomous bristles. When touched, the bristles break off and release toxins, causing skin irritation. The immediate reaction may include:
- Burning sensation
These symptoms usually occur in children and adults frequenting parks and backyards during spring, the caterpillar’s active season.
The stinging caterpillar is commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains, particularly in states like Florida and Texas.
First Aid and Treatment
Upon being stung by an American Dagger Moth caterpillar, it is crucial to take the following steps:
- Remove bristles: Use sticky tape or a tweezer to remove the bristles embedded in the skin
- Wash the affected area: Clean the skin with soap and water to minimize infection
- Apply ice: Apply an ice pack to reduce inflammation
- Consider over-the-counter remedies: Antihistamines, hydrocortisone cream, or pain relievers may help alleviate symptoms
- Seek professional advice: Consult an entomologist, dermatologist, or healthcare professional if symptoms worsen, persist, or cause concern
The American Dagger Moth caterpillar can be identified by its distinct markings, including a white band, black bristles, and black ring on its fuzzy body.
It’s important to educate children on avoiding contact with stinging caterpillars, especially during their active spring season, to prevent painful encounters.
Lifecycle and Development
Eggs and Hatching
The life cycle of the American dagger moth (Acronicta americana) begins as eggs. Female moths lay their eggs on the leaves of hardwood trees, where they eventually hatch into small larvae.
The larval stage is when the American dagger moth caterpillar grows and develops. These larvae have distinct features:
- Grayish hairs covering their body
- Black blotch on the eighth abdominal segment
- Distinct yellow or white setae on each segment
During this stage, caterpillars consume leaves to grow up to 2 inches in length. They also face predators like birds, spiders, and parasitic wasps.
As the larvae complete their development, they form cocoons under tree bark or in leaf litter. In these cocoons, they undergo metamorphosis, transforming into adult moths over several weeks.
Once fully developed, American dagger moths emerge from their cocoons. Key features of adult moths include:
- Forewings with black zigzags and a narrow black ring near the edge
- Grayish-white setae on wings and upper legs
- Wingspan of approximately 2 – 2.6 inches
As members of the Lepidoptera order, American dagger moths play a role in the ecosystem as pollinators and as prey for various predators.
Prevention and Control
To prevent American dagger moth caterpillars from invading parks and backyards, it’s important to maintain the environment.
Regularly trimming vegetation can help hinder their access to food sources. Additionally, introducing natural predators, such as birds and beneficial insects, can help control their population.
|Introducing natural predators||Eco-friendly||Might be slow|
Safe Handling and Removal
If you encounter an American dagger moth caterpillar, it’s essential to handle it with care, as its bristles may cause an itchy rash or swelling upon contact.
To safely remove a caterpillar, avoid touching it with your bare hands. Instead, use a stick, gloves, or other tools to move it away from the area.
By following these prevention and control tips, you can minimize the risk of American dagger moth caterpillar stings and keep your surroundings caterpillar-free.
While the American dagger moth caterpillar is an intriguing creature with its distinctive appearance, it can deliver a painful sting through its venomous bristles.
If you come into contact with one, be cautious and monitor any symptoms. To avoid stings, educate children about these caterpillars during their active season.
In case of a sting, promptly remove bristles, clean the affected area, and seek professional advice if needed.
Taking preventive measures and handling these caterpillars safely can help ensure a caterpillar-free environment and reduce the risk of painful encounters.
Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some beautiful images asking us about the American Dagger Moth Caterpillar. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Hi I found this catipillar on my porch. Can you tell me what it is and what to feed it? from,
According to BugGuide, the American Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Acronicta americana, feeds ” on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hickory, maple, oak, poplar, walnut, willow and other deciduous trees “
Letter 2 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
tussock moth caterpillar
Location: Ellicott City, MD
August 16, 2011 8:34 pm
I have determined that this is a tussock moth caterpillar, but I am unable to narrow it down further. Pale? Yellow-based? I can’t tell for sure from the pictures I’ve seen. Can you make a precise determination?
Your yellow caterpillar with a few tufts of black hairs is not a Tussock Moth Caterpillar, but rather, it is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Acronicta americana, one of the Owlet Moths. You can verify our identification on Bugguide where it is indicated: “The caterpillar’s hairs can cause skin irritation.” You letter is the last we will be able to post this morning because of personal reasons.
Letter 3 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
What’s this guy called?
Location: Upper Peninsula of Michigan
October 3, 2011 10:23 pm
I found this guy on my garage door when I got home today. He actually seemed very interested in me, he didn’t start reaching off the garage door until I started taking pictures. Hope you can let me know – I’ve never seen one that has looked like this before!
This distinctive caterpillar is the larva of the American Dagger Moth, Acronicta americana. You may read more about the American Dagger Moth on BugGuide.
Letter 4 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Subject: What is this?
July 21, 2014 9:33 pm
I saw your presentation a few years ago and a friend posted a picture on Facebook today wondering “what’s that bug” and no one seemed to know so I figured I’d ask.
Signature: Mr. Burk
Dear Mr. Burk,
This very distinctive caterpillar is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Acronicta americana, and according to BugGuide, its habitat is: “Woodlands and forests, especially mesic to swampy bottomlands” and “The caterpillar’s hairs can cause skin irritation.” Just our of curiosity, which presentation did you see? We are guessing it was the Getty lecture.
Letter 5 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Subject: what is this caterpillar?
Location: bemidji, Minnesota
September 13, 2015 7:24 pm
found this little guy and am having a hard time identifying
This is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Acronicta americana, and we found a matching image on BugGuide to verify its identity. According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hickory, maple, oak, poplar, walnut, willow and other deciduous trees” and “The caterpillar’s hairs can cause skin irritation.”
Letter 6 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Subject: Spider & Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: SE MN
Time: 10:17 PM EDT
I find th spider on my front door last week, summer like temps, 75° F @ 7:45 am. It was about the size of a Kennedy Half Dollar, I got my neighbor to relocate it off my door.
The caterpillar I found outside at work about 2 years ago, late August early September, moderate summer temps. It was too neat and pretty to not take a picture of.
I don’t have any idea what kind either of them are.
How you want your letter signed: Jane
Your caterpillar is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar and you can verify our identification by comparing your image to this BugGuide image. According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hickory, maple, oak, poplar, walnut, willow and other deciduous trees” and “The caterpillar’s hairs can cause skin irritation.” Your spider is a harmless Banded Orbweaver.
Letter 7 – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: New Jersey
Time: 12:36 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I would like to identify this bug
How you want your letter signed: Kenneth ueland
This is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Acronicta americana, and according to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hickory, maple, oak, poplar, walnut, willow and other deciduous trees.”
Letter 8 – Unknown Wooly Bear or Tussock Caterpillar
Can you id this guy?
Found this critter near the bank of the Potomac River in Brunswick, Maryland on August 5th. He was about an inch and a half to two inches long and he was moving pretty fast. Thanks.
At first we thought you had a Tiger Moth, or a Tussock Moth caterpillar, but now we believe this is an American Dagger Moth, Acronicta americana, one of the Noctuids or Owlet Moths. It feeds on Maple and other hardwood forest tree leaves.