Gardening with Laurie: Beware of the nasty asp

By Laurie Garretson
Nov. 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

Laurie Garretson

Most gardeners realize the addiction we have with having our hands in the soil, planting seeds and plants, and nurturing all types of flowers, vegetables and usually anything else that grows in the soil. Gardening gives us so much fun and pleasure. Unfortunately, there are some parts of gardening that are not so wonderful, but ever so often, we have to take the good with the bad.

One of the not-so-pleasant parts to the wonderful world of gardening happens to be certain types of insects that are able to inflict pain on humans or other creatures.

There have been many reports from fellow gardeners seeing pus caterpillars, commonly known as the asp, on many types of plants in their yards. This is definitely one little creature that will cause much discomfort.

Mature asp caterpillars are about 1- to 11/2-inches long with soft-looking, slicked back, long brown, black, gray or yellowish hairs. Their heads and legs are not visible from above. You could say they look cute and just might want to pick one up if you were not aware of the pain they can cause.

Pus caterpillars come from the beige colored flannel moth that has a 1- to 11/2-inch wing span. The mother moth lays eggs on all types of plants and tree bark. Pus caterpillars feed on leaves of many types of shrubs, especially hollies, before forming a cocoon to spend winter in. The next summer, the moth emerges from the cocoon, and the cycle begins again.

Hidden beneath the hairs on an asp are hollow, sharp spines that inject a venom when the hairs are disturbed. Pain will occur within five minutes and will quickly intensify to excruciating pain. The pain will usually radiate to lymph nodes in the armpits or groin area and then the chest area. Although it will feel like a life-threatening condition only rarely is this the case, unless there are other underlying medical conditions.

If ever stung by an asp, the first thing to do is apply and peel off several strips of duct tape to the site to help remove the stingers. Then, rinse the area with cool water. Some people report taking Benadryl and aspirin to help with the pain and possible swelling. Other symptoms can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, vomiting and abdominal distress. After 20 to 24 hours, the pain usually starts to subside.

To keep from being stung, be aware of the possibility that your landscape on foliage.. Take a walk around your yard and closely inspect all the plants. If you find an asp, very carefully find a safe way to smash it, and then spray the entire area with Spinosad insecticide or some BT worm killer. When going on an asp hunt, always have a long stick to kill the asp. If you go looking for a stick after finding an asp, chances are the pest will be gone when you return. I speak from experience.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.



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