April 3, 2009

Deadly Bug!

I'm having a little freak out right now.

If bugs send you screaming out of the room, be advised, this post may NOT be for you.

Personally I have no issues with bugs. Except cockroaches. I totally discriminate against cockroaches.

But right now I'm absolutely freaked out by a bug encounter I had today. I wasn't at the time, but now that I've come to realize what a close brush I WILLINGLY had with a very poisonous caterpillar, I'm in total heebie-jeebies mode.

So why am I going to inflict this upon you? Consider it a PSA. I know I have a lot of people living in Brazil who read this - so I am making it my civic duty to inform any other curious, nature loving thrill seekers, so you don't make the same mistake I nearly did.

But first I'll write a little more to give you a chance to click away if you don't want to get freaked out. I'll leave the pictures for closer to the end.

My father is a naturalist. Not by profession, but he has since his boyhood possessed a tremendous love and curiosity for the natural world. He loves all animals - and all creatures great and small, sometimes more than human race I think. He instilled this in me when I was very young. He would take me on nature walks where we lived at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and teach me about the animals. He would show me things like how the red-winged black bird will pretend she has a broken wing and flop around on the ground to lead you away from the nest. How if you spook a beaver it will slap it's tail in the water to warn other beavers. He taught me how to fly fish (although I've long since forgotten.)

He lives in Panama now with a menagerie that includes 3 sloths (two two-toed's and one three toed) dogs, cats, turtles and monkeys. There are actually more sloth's, but the three that he keeps close are ones that he rehabilitated after they had been hit by cars in their slow trek to find food.

Here's a picture of him and one of his "babies".

Roger and Lightnin' copy

Another thing he taught me was not to be grossed out by bugs, but instead appreciate them for their beauty and diversity. I rarely kill them. (Cockroaches and mosquitoes being the exceptions.) If I find them in my house, even spiders, I do my best to capture them and toss them outside.

I have a total respect for nature. And I know not to go picking up things that I am unfamiliar with. So when I came across a spiny caterpillar today, I knew I better not touch it, but I wasn't the least bit afraid of it.

I took a bunch of pictures and even grabbed my pen and poked at it to try to get it out from under the leaves. It was about 8 cm long (3-4 inches) and just fascinating. I noticed greenish goo on the end of the pen and I tossed it into the dirt to be cleaned off later.

I went and got C and Vicente to show them and sure enough, Vicente confirmed that this wasn't a guy to be messed with. He's poisonous. But that was about all he said.

Then he picked up the pen and went to hand it to C who reached his hand out to take the end that had the goo on it and I screamed, just in time, "No! No! No!" They all kind of laughed at me, and C even said, "Oh, come on." But I took the pen and washed it in running water and dried it in the grass. I thought maybe I had saved him from a nasty sting. Maybe something like poison ivy.

Little did I know that I had saved him from a trip to the hospital and possible life threatening complications!

All right, are you ready to see some pictures.

Lonomia - Taturana Assassina

I looked him up and it is a species of Lonomia. In Brazil they call them taturanas assassinas. They are a group that develop into Saturniid moths. Their venom is as deadly as a rattlesnake bite with just a fraction of the quantity. They are responsible for several deaths a year in Brazil. Most of the time the deaths are due to multiple contact - not just one - like brushing up against a cluster on a tree trunk, or reaching your hand into some leaves and not seeing several hiding on the backside of the foliage.

The immediate sensation is described as violent burning pain. But worse, the toxin is a type of anticoagulant that causes internal hemorrhaging, destruction of blood cells and kidney failure. It's like the Ebola of bugs.

Lonomia - Taturana Assassina

And there I was poking it with a pen.

Which my husband nearly put his hand on!

ARRRRRGGGGG! See I'm totally freaking out. I wanna go back to the concrete jungle! I'll take cockroaches in a New York kitchen any day! Man, take your pick in Brazil - shoot outs in Rio, kidnappings in São Paulo, or kidney failure after coming in contact with a little bug. (Sorry Brazil, you know how much I love you... but sometimes you are more than challenging.)

I let it crawl away without killing it. But damn. I wish I had. We do NOT want an infestation.

All right, and in wrapping up my PSA, please note that there are over a dozen species and they have different colors. They also change color as they mature, from light green to reddish to black. You can google them to see more varieties. The distinguishing feature is their Christmas tree-like spines. There are other burning caterpillars that just cause a nasty sting and nothing more, but they do not have the horny "branches" that these guys have.

Okay, are you all thoroughly skeezed out? I for one will be having nightmares...


Okay, while I'm being a bit silly and freaking out here on the page I thought I would just add, that while doing some more research on this critter, I continue to be impressed that there is absolutely no joking about it.
A Canadian woman was killed last year after stepping on one and returning home without seeking medical treatment. If you get stung, the symptoms may not come on for a day or two, but you have to get to a hospital ASAP to get an anti-venom. And if possible kill and put the caterpillar in a jar (without touching it) so they can better identify the species. Also, if you're visiting Brazil, get treatment here because your home country probably won't have access to the anti-venom. That's what happened in the case of the Canadian woman.


Stephanie said...

That is SO funny! Ok, that is not what I mean, not like funny ha, ha but funny coincidence, because I just told Sidnei today, I was afraid of the bugs in Brazil. I am TERRIFIED of spiders. I mean like I have nightmares about them terrified. Today I ran across (LITERALLY!) a HUGE black snake. Now I know that it just ran away from me and that they rarely harm anyone, but I still have the heebie jeebies. And of course I read your post all the way through because I can't help myself! YIKES! I will be sure to write this in my book of things to be terrified of! :) hahaha!

Glad you guys didn't have any encounters with the goo! Didn't your Mom tell you it wasn't polite to go poking around in someone else's business ;) haha Seriously glad though! That could have been bad!

GingerV said...

is this the same family as the green one in my blog today? I had been warned that caterpillars with spines can sting - but not kill.... I will look into this critter. thanks for all your information.

Ballerina Girl said...

I am not freaked out but rather quite happy that you have informed me of these!
My daughter is very much into ANY animal, big, small, insect, dog, cat, etc...
I swear she will be a vet or just own a lot of animals!
Thanks for the info!
and be careful out there!

lovelydharma said...

Oh, Stephanie! You will have some interesting times here. Luckily the majority of the I haven't run into too many spiders and most are not poisonous.... but there are bugs galore...

BG - that's wonderful your daughter is a budding naturalist! She is certainly living in the right place.

Ginger - I don't think the one on your blog is related. It's fuzzy and cute - but will still give you a rash, but nothing serious. These guys really stand out because of those spiky spines. They're pretty obvious when you see them. When I stumbled on this guy today, I knew I'd never seen anything like it.

Mei said...

I'd like to add that the picture of your dad is super cool. He seems like an awesome guy!

lovelydharma said...

Hey, thanks Mei. He is a pretty cool guy. If you ever get to Panama and head over to the Caribbean coast near Isla Grande, just ask anyone where the American sloth guy is. They all know him!

Anonymous said...

Big and Real!!!

Elaine Bittencourt said...

hi! my first post here! got here through Blondie's blog.

I don't remember ever seeing this bug while living in Brazil. phew! however, I remember those cute green ones.

I don't do well with bugs of any kind. They don't freak me out though. I just don't like them.

Emily said...

When I won't allow this baby to go outside and play and she starts to complain I'm going to tell her she has you to blame. ;)

Seriously though - ick and eeeew!
I have a healthy fear of the catapillars here ever since a bunch of Brasilians totally freaked out when some were crawling on a wall I was leaning against. I didn't see what the big deal was, but they all acted like I was about to die . . . ever since I've tried to steer clear.

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

How scary! An incredibly beautiful creature, though. I have to admit I have my guard up regarding creatures and bugs here. I know not all things are deadly in Brazil, but it is just the fact that it is unfamiliar territory and I have no way of knowing what is, and what is not, safe. Back home we know which snakes, lizards and spiders to look out for when out in nature, but I don't know much about anything here so I just steer clear of them all!

Glad everyone is okay. Your Dad sounds like an incredibly interesting man. Sloths have always intrigued me. I'd love to see one in nature sometime.

markuza said...

This post creeped me out pretty seriously- I'm pretty much a bug-hugger myself, I once got extremely upset when my wife ordered her son to kill a slug that wasn't bothering anyone. She said it was dangerous but she says that about pretty much every critter that comes along, including some I know are not, so I've come to take her advice with a grain of salt. She does know her ants though (ah, those are sugar ants, they won't bother you... watch out for those ants, they bite! etc)

But what was really creepy is that I've seen caterpillars like these- never messed with them, but I had no idea they were that dangerous. Yikes! Thanks for the heads up.

btw my captcha word is 'zingrili' - I don't know if that's a real word but it should be!

Rachel said...

Both times I've been to Juiz de Fora, I've come face to face with these guys (though I think they were a slightly different species, but poisonous nonetheless). There are a ton of them in Eli's grandma's backyard. They irk me to no end! Luckily, I've never seen any in Rio, but there may be some in the forest.

Elizabeth said...

OMG. I spent some time in Uruguay and took some really nice pics of a caterpillar that looked just the same but bright green. I had no idea. I followed it around our patio for a while but kept my cat from getting near it. Finally, I moved it off my patio with a plate. Do you know of a site that I could compare the pictures? Seriously, the one I saw was just like the one in your picture but green... Good thing nothing happened! Thanks! Liz

Elizabeth said...

I just looked it up and yes, I did encounter one of these! WOW! and I thought that the tarantula I found in my living room was dangerous... I can send you pics if you want. :-)