American Dagger Moth Caterpillar Sting: Quick Facts & Remedies for You

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.

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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.

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American Dagger Moth Caterpillar Overview

Physical Appearance

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.

Habitat

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.

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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.

FeatureAmerican Dagger Moth Caterpillar
ColorYellow to gray
Body Hairs/BristlesLong black
VenomYes
HabitatNorth America
Typical Host PlantsWillow, maple, and elm
SizeUp to 2 inches in length

Important Characteristics:

  • 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:

  • Ash
  • Alder
  • Elm
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Willow
  • Birch
  • Hickory
  • Poplar

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:

Tree SpeciesExamples
MapleSugar maple, red maple
AlderBlack alder, Speckled alder
BirchRiver birch, yellow birch
HickoryShagbark hickory, shellbark hickory
OakWhite oak, red oak
PoplarTulip 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
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling

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:

  1. Remove bristles: Use sticky tape or a tweezer to remove the bristles embedded in the skin
  2. Wash the affected area: Clean the skin with soap and water to minimize infection
  3. Apply ice: Apply an ice pack to reduce inflammation
  4. Consider over-the-counter remedies: Antihistamines, hydrocortisone cream, or pain relievers may help alleviate symptoms
  5. 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.

Larval Stage

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.

Pupation Stage

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.

Adult Moths

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.

MethodProsCons
Trimming vegetationCost-effectiveLabor-intensive
Introducing natural predatorsEco-friendlyMight 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.

Conclusion

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.

Readers’ Mail

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,
Hank

Hi Hank,
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?
Signature: George

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Hi George,
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!
Signature: Curious

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Dear Curious,
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?
Location: Maryland
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

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

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
Signature: jamie

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Dear Jamie,
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
Date: 09/27/2017
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

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Dear 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

Subject:  Caterpillars
Geographic location of the bug:  New Jersey
Date: 08/26/2018
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

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Dear Kenneth,
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?
Dear Bugman,
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.
Regards, Harvey

Hi Harvey,
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.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

3 thoughts on “American Dagger Moth Caterpillar Sting: Quick Facts & Remedies for You”

  1. I removed over 100 of these in a week from my maple tree , I live in Arizona but the bug site says found east of the rocky mts

    Reply
  2. Found one of these guys in my apartment. I must have tracked it in somehow, as I’m in a second floor apartment. Certainly no trees for it to eat, unless it changed its diet to Doritos crumbs.
    Location Bensalem, PA. Right on the river at the Philadelphia border.

    Reply

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