Few other larvae are as captivating as the caterpillar. Maggots and grubs not so much, , but the larvae of butterflies and moths are likely to encourage cooing. Caterpillars inhabit the world of charming creepy-crawlies, like ladybugs and fireflies.

But cute critter status aside, there’s a reason why the Swiss German word for caterpillar (teufelskatz) translates to "devil's cat." Caterpillars have a dark side, one that justifies entomophobia, the fear of caterpillars.

Including one species that inhabits North Dakota.  lo moth caterpillar. (Automeris io)

The range of the lo moth caterpillar includes Manitoba and in the southern extremes of Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick in Canada, to Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, east of those states and down to the southern end of Florida. Io gets around.

And yes, those frond-like spines have a painful venom that is released with the slightest touch. Some people experience severe reactions and require medical attention, while some only itch or have a burning sensation.

Caterpillars are high in protein and rather defenseless — making them an easy dinner staple for other animals — and many have evolved various means of protection. Their markings and body parts can make them seem larger in size or even poisonous. In fact, some of them are poisonous, both to consume and to the touch.

Stinging caterpillars have hollow bristles that contain toxins from poison-gland cells. When touched, these structures can break and the poison is released. Reactions run the range from mild stinging and itching to intense pain and, in the case of the giant silkworm moth caterpillar, even death.

But before you go out and start squishing caterpillars, remember that they are not vicious and stinging only occurs when they are touched and feel threatened.

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