Painful garden encounter

For the first time in nearly five years, I have been able to garden again.  It became crucial to create a deer free zone, not an easy task...combining hard work and the cost of fencing.

Naturally, I went a bit crazy, over-planting many crops, including sweet-corn.  In previous years, we always had a small patch of corn, but nothing like this year.  Perhaps it was the larger space given over to corn, perhaps it was related to the different location, higher up our hill and better sunshine exposure.  Or, equally, it could be just serendipity. But the encounter I will soon share, was a new one.

About three weeks ago, as I was happily harvesting a few ears of ripe corn, suddenly a sharp stinging sensation erupted from the back of my hand.  Knowing there had to be a cause, I poked around the plant looking for the culprit, and this is what I discovered: 

Truth be told, I have always wanted to see the saddle-backed caterpillar, just not under these particular circumstances. 

Acharia stimulea

is common, the cat feeding on a wide range of host plants, including corn.  About an inch long, this member of the slug caterpillar family


has, according to David Wagner in his Caterpillars of Eastern North America, "...the most potent [sting] of any North American caterpillar."

I can testify to that.  In fact, I have found three this year the hard way, the last encounter only about an hour ago.  First aid for caterpillar stings is duct tape.  Just place the tape firmly over the affected area and gently pull away.  It works, sort of. 

Scott Jackson-Ricketts