Poison

Io moth cats sport a bristling armament of stinging hairs.

September 12, 2014 | | Notes from the Wild

I was stung on my right leg by a yellow jacket wasp as I brushed its nest, hanging, as it was, from the flooring of my deck.

I was stung on my right leg by a yellow jacket wasp as I brushed its nest, hanging, as it was, from the flooring of my deck.

Nature can be a place of refuge where quiet contemplation of its gentle beauty refreshes and inspires. But it can also be a minefield of hostile spikes, spines and stingers.

We are all familiar with rattlesnake venom injected through stabbing fangs. But vast is the community of organisms, both plant and animal, that have evolved poison weaponry.

We can be at peril in our own backyards from this arsenal. Recently, for example, I was stung on my right leg by a yellow jacket wasp as I brushed its nest, hanging, as it was, from the flooring of my deck.

Hopping on my good leg, I then stumbled into a patch of stinging nettle that I grow for red admiral caterpillars. An expletive escaped my mouth, best described in this family blog, as a rather emphatic “Ouch!”

A few days later I was tending my Io moth caterpillars. (Yes, caterpillar husbandry is one of my rather eccentric pastimes.) Io moth cats sport a bristling armament of stinging hairs. Sure enough I was graced with the opportunity to compare the pain they inflict with that of stinging nettle – rather more severe I would venture, and a tad more penetrating.

Yellow jackets, like so many other wasps and bees, deliver venom with needle-sharp stingers that they thrust vigorously into flesh.

Stinging nettle hairs, on the other hand, are passive dispensers of poison. Their brittle tips break off, splashing a witches’ brew of toxins on the skin. Io caterpillar hairs work in similar fashion.

I survived my recent misadventures with nature’s poisons quite well. To be honest, an incident recalled vividly from my youth, was more daunting – the time, while riding my bike, that a honeybee flew up my shorts.

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Stinging nettle hairs, on the other hand, are passive dispensers of poison. Their brittle tips break off, splashing a witches’ brew of toxins on the skin.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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