We were in the UP Diliman campus conducting a guided trip for first-time birdwatchers. We were admiring two handsome Collared Kingfishers in the Beta Way when I felt something on my neck. Without looking, I flicked it downwards with my hand and saw a small, fleshy caterpillar clinging to the front of my shirt. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw it didn't have any hairs on it. Whew! I flicked it away from my shirt and that's when the itching started. No wonder the caterpillar didn't have any hairs on it... it was all on my neck! Gah!
|Nasty aftermath of the close encounter with a higad|
It was my first ever higad attack! I tried to remember all I knew about what to do when this happens, while ignoring the building itchy feeling on my neck. Was there a leaf of some kind I could mash and apply to the area??? All I remembered was: don't scratch so the hairs won't spread! So that's what I did. But my neck was starting to sting a bit and I really wanted to scratch it!
I knew I had some alcohol in my birding belt bag... which I didn't bring since it was only a half day trip in the middle of the city! A fellow birdwatcher who saw the whole thing and my rising panic took pity on me and offered me some wet wipes. I gratefully took a sheet and dabbed it at my neck. It relieved the stinging and itching a bit and took out some of the hairs. The stinging became quite tolerable and I chose to ignore it and wait til we got back to the cars before I did anything about it.
I managed to forget about it the rest of the morning and was able to clean the area around noon. A day after, my neck has a slightly puffy red streak where the hairs came in contact with the skin. It stings a bit when it comes in contact with anything and sometimes gets real itchy! But other than that, nothing intolerable.
|One of my students commented with a look of horror: |
"Teacher! Your neck is red and spotted!!!"
Having experienced a higad attack made me really curious about the best remedies for it. Being a birdwatcher, you can find yourself in close contact with these hairy cats while in the field and it's good to know what you're supposed to do about it. After reading up on material online and asking my sister who is a doctor, here's what I now know about when a higad attacks:
- The most important thing when a higad gets on your bare skin is not to touch the area. Touching or scratching will cause the toxic hairs to spread and cause more damage. So no touching! I'm grateful to Trinket for giving me stern looks and reminders not to touch and not to scratch no matter how itchy my neck was getting! Otherwise, my neck would have been striped with red!
- Some sites advise to remove clothing, accessories, or jewelry that may have come in contact with the higad and may have higad hairs on them too. Disrobing in front of your birding group may not be such a pleasant experience for everyone, so no panicking and putting on a live show for your friends (this step I skipped for very obvious reasons.) The irritation was considerably lessened when I finally removed my shirt later on that day.
- Next thing to do is to remove the toxic hairs that have become embedded in the skin. How can we do that? Online, I found remedies that suggest applying vinegar, urine, or rock salt to dissolve the hairs. Melted candle wax can also be dripped on to the affected area (ouch!) and allowed to harden then peeled off. My friend Ronald says he does this when a higad gets on him and he says the pain of the hot wax makes him forget about the itchiness. Sticky tape or duct tape was also suggested to peel off the hairs. I imagine the tape to be the least uncomfortable and least painful method but Ronald says it might just break off the hairs. Tweezers and a friend (to pull out the hairs) would be helpful too. However, just like in my situation last weekend (or when one is in the middle of the forest), vinegar, rock salt, a lighted candle, or sticky tape may not always be available. I am in no way suggesting asking for urine from a companion no matter how close you are. What I did was dab gently at my neck with a piece of wet wipes a birder generously gave me. I did see some of the hairs come off but I'm sure it wasn't as effective as the other suggested methods.
- For medication, my sister recommends applying a topical steroid (like Diprolene or Betnovate) to the area to treat the itchiness and inflammation. Our birder friend Kitty also suggests using Triamcinolone cream for this and other nasty insect bites. If you react severely to the hairs and if the symptoms persist even with medication, it is best to have it checked by a doctor.
Just an update! I've been getting some queries from people who have been "attacked" by hairy caterpillars and would want to share some of the locally available balms I use not only for these incidents but for other insect bites as well. These are products from the Philippines.
|ALL ORGANICS PAIN & ITCH BALM: super effective in relieving itchiness!|
HUMAN HEART NATURE BALM FOR ALL SEASONS: pretty effective too, and it also helps with my headaches
GIGA TEA TREE CREAM: also pretty effective for relieving itchiness
So there! My curiosity got the better of me and I have read, interviewed, and pestered people for their opinion regarding treatment and remedies. I hope I won't ever need to recall all this information because of another hairy caterpillar attack but I guess the higads are always out there, landing on you when you least expect it.