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Have you seen Stinging nettle caterpillar (Darna pallivitta)?
Hawaii Early Detection Network Priority Pest for all of Hawaii


Stinging nettle caterpillar
Nettle caterpillar eating a Ti tree (Cordyline fruticosa) leaf
Darna pallivitta, late instar
The caterpillar's spiny hairs sting on contact
Stining Nettle Caterpillar damage
Damage done while feeding on coconut (Cocos nucifera) fronds

Identification: The stinging nettle caterpillar is the 1st larval form of an Asian moth. It is covered with rows of poisonous spines. The coloration is variable, ranging from white to light grey, with a dark stripe running down the length of the back.
Impacts: This caterpillar produces a painful sting filled with a burning, itching sensation and may cause an allergic reaction. The skin will swell and create a welt that may last for days followed by a persistent rash that may last for weeks. In the nursery industry, stinging nettle caterpillars feed upon and damage crops.
Dispersal Mechanism: Stinging nettle caterpillars are often distributed through cargo and nursery shipments. Originally from Southeast Asia, stinging nettle caterpillars were first found on the Big Island in 2001. They continue to have a large presence on the Big Island and are now known from several locations on Maui. The nettle caterpillar can be found on over 30 plant species including palms, pasture and ornamental grasses, weeds and foliage plants. This pest is not known on Kauai, please report any sighting of this pest.

Download the CTAHR Darna pallivitta pest alert external link for more detailed identification information.


Stinging nettle caterpillar look-alikes:


Nymphalid butterflies (Family: Nymphalidae):
Some of the caterpillars from the Nymphalidae family also are covered in spines, though non-stinging. Butterflies in this family include Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameame), painted lady (Vanessa cardui), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), American lady (Vanessa virginiensis), California tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica) and the Passion Vine Butterfly or Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).

Agraulis vanillae

Passion Vine Butterfly or Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Last Updated: Monday January 30 2012. If you have any questions about the Hawaii Early Detection Network contact reportapest-maui@lists.hawaii.edu.
Funding and support for this project was made possible by the Hawai'i Invasive Species Council, the USDA Forest Service State and Private Forestry assistance, and University of Hawai'i-Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.