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american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

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american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

Description and Biology

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The American dagger moth, Acronicta americana, is so called because of markings on the forewing that resemble daggers (if you have a good imagination). These moths have grayish-white setae on the wings and upper legs. The wings are marked with faint black zigzags and a narrow, black ring near the edge of each wing. A faint white band along the edge of the forewings is marked with black spots. It is most active from spring to early autumn.


Dagger moth caterpillars are fuzzy with medium length yellow, yellowgreen, or even white setae. They also have four, elegant, slender, black “pencils” of setae that extend out from the first and third abdominal segments. A fifth pencil of black bristles extends near the rear of the caterpillar. It is reputed that these pencils may break off and become embed into skin. Toxins supposedly inside the hairs are reputed to cause a stinging sensation that may develop into a rash.

Caterpillars may grow as long as 2 inches and are often found on the soil near their host trees from July through late October. We probably have two generations per year in North Carolina.

Host Plants

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The dagger moth caterpillars feed on the leaves of alder, ash, elm, maple, oak, willow, and other hardwood trees in yards, parks, backyards, forests and woodlands throughout the growing season.

Residential Recommendations

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Only in rare instances have dagger moths become really noticeable pests. Most are noticed one or two at a time. Should they cause noticeable defoliation, most of the insecticides labeled for landscape use in residential landscapes will give more than adequate control. Dagger moth caterpillars that have matured and are searching for a suitable place to spin cocoons may appear to be resistant to insecticides. Such individuals can be trampled under foot.

American Dagger Moth Interesting Facts

What type of animal is an American Dagger Moth?

The American Dagger Moth (Acronicta americana) is a type of moth.

american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

What class of animal does an American Dagger Moth belong to?

The American Dagger Moth belongs to the phylum Arthropoda, also called the arthropod.

How many American Dagger Moths are there in the world?

Due to a lack of research, there is no fixed number of these drab-colored creatures across the world.

Where does an American Dagger Moth live?

The American Dagger Mothis primarily found in forests and near houses and other urban landscapes.

What is an American Dagger Moth’s habitat?

The Dagger Moth has its habitat in deciduous trees such as cedar, oak, and more. They prefer areas with lots of trees, shrubs, hedges, bushes, and vegetation.

Who do American Dagger Moths live with?

The Dagger Mothmostly lives by itself.

How long does an American Dagger Moth live?

The American Dagger Moth lives up to three years.

How do they reproduce?

The female will lay eggs on the leaves of a tree, wherein the male will fertilize them soon after. The larvae are born less than 10 days after. Larvae feed on tree sap, leaves, and more as they grow up to be the American Dagger Mothcaterpillar, after which it transforms from an American Dagger Moth caterpillar to a full-fledged adult.

What is their conservation status?

The Dagger Moth has been marked by the IUCN list as a species of Least Concern.

American Dagger Moth Fun Facts
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
What do American Dagger Moths look like?

As adults, they have two forewings and back wings, colored a drab brown-black in shade. Females are darker in coloring, and both have a black band running through their wings. The caterpillars, on the other hand, have black and yellow setae that extended from their first and third abdominal segments.

How cute are they?

This species is not cute at all. They are very drab in color, with their black, brown shades and creepy crawly larvae. It is best to avoid these creatures at all times.

How do they communicate?

They primarily communicate through their antenna and scents which they use to navigate to mates, invite for mating, and lay eggs to be fertilized.

How big is an American Dagger Moth?

The American Dagger Moth is actually moderately sized, around 2-2.5 in. This makes them more than five times as large as the Stigmella Maya, the smallest moth in the world.

How fast can American Dagger Moths fly?

There is no recorded speed for how fast they can fly. However, they do fly around a lot, jumping from one tree to another.

How much does an American Dagger Moth weigh?

Coming in at a minuscule 0.005 g, the Dagger Moth weighs almost nothing.

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no specific name for the male or the female of this species.

What would you call a baby American Dagger Moth?

You would call the baby an American Dagger Moth caterpillar.

What do they eat?

They are primarily herbivores, eating only tree leaves from trees such as oak, cedar, willow, and more. Occasionally, they will also consume tree sap if it is readily available.

Are they dangerous?

In their adult form, the American Dagger Moth poses no danger to anyone. However, the American Dagger Moth caterpillar can be quite dangerous. They can cause rashes, sores, and reddening. However, they are not fatal, nor are they venomous. Scientists are still investigating the reason for the rashes.

Would they make a good pet?

No. This is because not only are they poor pets, they are also difficult to maintain, and illegal to have as pets in the first place due to conservation concerns. You would be much better off adopting a cute puppy instead!

american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
Did you know…

These species with black hairs and yellow bristles were discovered by Thaddeus William Harris in 1848 when his three-year-old son accidentally touched the yellow and black hairs and skin of the caterpillars in their gardens. He had them classified as caterpillars and their adult form in the order Lepidoptera.

Dangers of the American Dagger Moths to humans

The American Dagger Moth caterpillar is the only phase of its life when it is dangerous to humans. It has thin black bristles on its body along with yellow and white hairs of a different density. Touching them may result in rashes, allergic reactions, sores, and more. It is best to drive away any caterpillars as soon as you see them. You can do this by brushing it away with a broom, and placing mint plants around your house and backyard to prevent their return.

The American Dagger Moth’s life cycle

The American Dagger Moth life cycle is a short one. It takes ten days for caterpillars to emerge from larvae. After this, it takes another month for the American Dagger Moth caterpillar cocoon to form. Before they emerge from their cocoon, they have yellow, white, and black bristles on their skin. Once adults, they seek to lay eggs and fertilize them, after which they die. Without mating, they can live up to three years.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other arthropods including morpho butterfly, or centipede.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our American Dagger Moth coloring pages.


Lots of reports of American Dagger moth caterpillars
While there are reports of the hairs sometimes causing skin irritation in humans, there is no evidence that they contain any form of venom


The American Dagger Moth caterpillar is a fairly common sight in this area, but may cause skin irritation when handled. Courtesy June Smith.

You may have seen them in your trees, they especially like deciduous forests. They’re called the American Dagger Moth caterpillar

BayToday reader June Smith writes, “So we have seen two of these yellow fluffy cute caterpillars but with black spikes and apparently they are mildly poisonous, depends on the person who touches them. Daughter lives a few blocks away and seen three recently.”

The American dagger moth, like June’s, can be seen from April to September in deciduous woodlands and forests.

And while there are reports of the hairs sometimes causing skin irritation in humans, there is no evidence that they contain any form of venom.

If you do handle one of these caterpillars and get a rash, wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any loose spines or hairs. Dry with air, not a towel and use sticky tape to remove any remaining spines or hairs.  Apply rubbing alcohol and then ice.

american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous
american dagger moth caterpillar poisonous

A recent history of contact with a moth, caterpillar or food plants are usually required to determine if and which caterpillar has caused a problem. Identification of the caterpillar or moth with pictures or taxonomic keys is essential in the prevention and control of stinging and itchy caterpillar infestations.

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Medical Entomology staff can identify the moths or caterpillars and offer advice on control and avoidance.

Treatment and control

Avoid contact with any hairy caterpillars or materials that they have contacted. When handling these insects, suitable protective clothing such as eyewear and gloves should always be worn. Most infestations are short lived and will subside after a short period.

If the caterpillar infestations are causing an appreciable problem, a pest control officer can chemically treat the food plant or harbourage area. Infestations will normally die out through the depletion of food resources or predation.

Treatment of affected skin by itchy caterpillars includes the removal of all affected clothing. Apply a piece of adhesive tape to the affected areas and pull the tape off immediately. This should remove the majority of the hairs and reduce the irritation. The tape can be examined under the microscope to observe hairs.

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