Reports of nettle caterpillar stings are on the rise on the Big Island's east side.

Big Island is alerted
to stinging caterpillar

A tiny caterpillar is making its painful presence known on the east side of the Big Island.

The state Department of Agriculture is advising residents to be on the lookout, as stings from the nettle caterpillar are increasing.

The stings are painful and can result in severe allergic reactions.

Treatment includes immediately washing the affected area with soap and water to remove any residue and applying ice to reduce swelling. State Health Department officials said victims can also apply hydrocortisone or calamine ointment to the stings, which usually develop into dime-size welts that last up to five days.

People who are stung in the eyes or who experience difficulty breathing should seek prompt medical attention.

The nettle caterpillar has light-color venomous spines and hairs on its body and a dark stripe down its back. It grows to about an inch long.

State officials believe the caterpillar, which is native to Taiwan, probably arrived here with a legal shipment of Rhapis palm seedlings.

The nettle caterpillar was first detected at an ornamental palm nursery in Panaewa in September 2001 and has spread to Waiakea, Waiakea Uka, Kaumana, Piihonua, Keaau, Kurtistown, Hawaiian Paradise Park and Orchidland.

Residents in infested areas should consider wearing protective clothing, such as long pants, long-sleeve shirts, gloves, shoes and protective eyewear when working in the yard. They should also monitor their pets for stings to the eyes.

Agriculture officials say the caterpillars prefer eating lilies and grasses but will eat just about anything. Their only predator in Hawaii is a tiny wasp that attacks the insect's eggs.

Agriculture officials have in quarantine another predator from Taiwan that they hope to release on the Big Island: another tiny wasp that attacks nettle larvae.

State Department of Agriculture

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