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October 8, 2001

Stinging Caterpillar Found on Big Island

Honolulu - The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has identified a new invasive species, a stinging nettle caterpillar (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae), that has established itself in one nursery on the Big Island. It is described as about one-inch long, white in color with black bands. The caterpillar has distinct bristly spines that when touched, may cause a burning sensation that lasts about an hour. (See photos) The adult moth is slightly smaller than a dime and is triangular in shape. It is bicolored with the front 2/3 of the body a yellowish-brown and the posterior 1/3 is brownish. The adult flies at night and hides under leaves during the day. The exact type of nettle caterpillar has not yet been determined. The caterpillar has been found primarily on the underside of the leaves of the rhapis palm.

Workers at the Panaewa nursery noticed the caterpillar about three weeks ago, but only last week notified a University of Hawaii (UH) extension service agent, who then contacted HDOA. It is estimated that the caterpillar has infested about 10 acres of the nursery's rhapis palms. The affected nursery applied insecticides last week to eradicate the caterpillar and follow up applications are planned. HDOA and UH last week inspected other nurseries in the Panaewa and Kohala areas and did not find any caterpillars or signs of damage. Limited surveys on Oahu also did not uncover any infestation.

It is not known at this time how the caterpillar arrived in Hawaii or how long it has been here. HDOA is asking all plant nurseries and the public to report any sightings of the nettle caterpillar or the moth as soon as possible to HDOA at the following phone numbers:

Oahu - 973-9522
Big Island - 974-4141
Maui - 873-3555
Kauai - 274-3069


Nettle caterpillar adult Nettle caterpillar larval and pupal stage

Photos courtesy of Dr. Arnold Hara, Entomologist, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Hilo

For more information, link to New Pest Advisory No. 01-03 at