JUNE
1991

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

06-27-91

STINGERS AND NETTLERS

This world is full of stingers and nettlers.  Stingers like scorpions, bees, hornets and wasps actively inject poison into their targets.  They deliberately and aggressively pursue their victims.  The insect stingers even sound dangerous, buzzing menacingly before they sting.

Nettlers are the mild-mannered poison peddlers of the world.  Nettlers are passive stingers.  They include stinging plants, some are appropriately called nettles, jellyfish and some caterpillars.  Nettlers never look for trouble, they simply wait for the victim to contact them.  So if you get too close, you are likely to regret it.

Stinging and nettling are methods of protection for these creatures.  Stinging allows insects to defend their homes as well as their lives.  Both stingers and nettlers use their poison-peddling prowess to avoid becoming a meal for some hungry insect or plant eater.

Even some fuzzy caterpillars are poison warfare experts.  These insects possess poisonous hairs which are typically shorter than other caterpillar hairs.  The hairs are barbed and connect to a poison gland at their base.  When the poisonous hair is contacted, the poison is released, and the victim experiences a stinging sensation.

Some of the nettling caterpillars are brightly marked.  One such is the saddle-back, a pale green insect with a brown and white design across its back that resembles a saddle.  Other nettling caterpillars include some of the tussock moths, the pus moth and the buck moth.

Years ago, witch doctors of primitive tribes recognized that some caterpillars had natural stinging arrows on their bodies.  These witch doctors frequently employed the irritating power of the poisonous hairs of these insects in their witchcraft.

Anyone who has had an encounter with a nettling caterpillar can tell you that they, like fire, are beautiful to behold but dangerous to touch.  And that is the way the insect would like to keep it.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox