Friday, September 08, 2006

Kamblipucchi

Or blanket worm is what the Kannadigas call one of these. I got one of these on my neck today and suffered some painful rashes as a result. I suppose that's the downside of so much diversity? All kinds of things can give you trouble?

The setae of some this caterpillar are called urticating hairs. Urticating refers to urticaria, a particular kind of allergic reaction. They are hollow and contain liquids secreted by trichogen cells at the base of the setae. The setae are meant to be defensive. The toxins they contain can apparently be quite diverse, ranging from protease like proteins, to histamine analogues, to anticoagulants. The result of having one of these dump its chemical load in your skin can range from rashes, to heart arrhythmia(!) to paralysis, seizures (!!) etc, depending on the species the caterpillar belonged to. There's a particular genus of south American saturnid moths called Lonomia that have caterpillars that are so bad they can kill you! The spines carry anticoagulants (same thing leeches use) that are very potent. They apparently have a fatality rate equivalent to rattlesnakes!!

Interestingly there are specific medical terms for these symptoms, Lepidopterism if it was a butterfly caterpillar, but moth caterpillars are usually worse, and that's called erucism.

On another completely other tangent, a long time ago Robert May, yes 'the' Robert May stopped by at our lab when he was visiting IISc. He told me about stridulating caterpillars when I was showing him my crickets. He didn't seem to know however why they do this. Some ants and caters are known to communicate, using vibration though. Maybe he was talking about these?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

i thought kambli puchis were black...

Natasha said...

Hi,
well, I'm not Kannadiga so I'm not sure. However I thought it was a generic name for all hairy caterpillars. Maybe I'm wrong?

anuradha said...

do they later turn out to become butterfly??

Kishan P said...

Hi,
My wife was bitten by one of these creepy blanket worms or whatever they call it, on the neck (do they only bite the neck:-o) a couple of days ago, while visiting Sim's Park in Coonoor. She has a bad rash now. Initially her neck was sore but now they are replaced by a blanket of pimples. It does hurt a bit.
So I just wanted to know if they were dangerous and needed some medication? Or would they just fade away?

Cheers'
pk

Natasha said...

Hey PK,
it should just fade with time. If it's really painful, she can apply a topical anti-histamine of some kind (if you can get it). Or maybe ask a doc if you want to take anti-hist pills.
It shouldn't be too dangerous, the really bad reactions usually occur instantly if they are going to happen.
And they don't bite, it's the tiny hair that get embedded in the skin. Check if they are still there and if they are just remove them with a small pair of tweezers.

Kishan P said...

Thanks a ton Natasha.
Yeah there were tiny hair left-overs on the neck, couple of which I had removed with my nails. The pain has subsided, but has left behind an ugly pimply look.
As long as its not dangerous, I guess its ok. Will check out the anti-histamine. Thanks.

Your blogs are way too scholarly for my comprehension :)
But well-researched. Keep up the good work.

Cheers'
pk