If you have ever watched a television show featuring the survival expert du jour, you probably saw them eat or drink some pretty interesting or even disgusting stuff. One thing that comes to mind was watching Bear Grylls eat a very large rhino beetle larvae. To each their own, of course, and desperate times do call for desperate measures, but you need to ensure that your desperation does not make you ill or cause you to die.
Note that this video is gross. Watch only if you dare. You've been warned.
Common and easily found are bugs, worms, and grubs, especially caterpillars. While these creatures may not sound appetizing, some are considered delicacies in different parts of the world. Many are also a good source of protein and will keep you going when you might have otherwise gassed out. You need to know what is safe to eat or even touch, however, so you don't do yourself more harm than good.
Some caterpillars to avoid are as follows. Do not eat these caterpillars no matter how hungry you are. Do not try to make friends with them by petting or touching them. Run, do not walk, away from these caterpillars!
1. The Puss Caterpillar is the most poisonous caterpillar in the United States. It may look innocent but do not be fooled by its appearance because this little fella spits acid. His cotton-like appearance is very deceptive because though it appears soft, its body is actually full of poisonous spines. These spines will actually break off and lodge in your spines to give you a gift that keeps on giving as doses of venom are delivered. An encounter with this creature will leave blood spots on your skin and could also cause problems ranging from headaches and vomiting right on up to shock and respiratory distress.
2. The Bag Shelter Caterpillar is a type of 'processionary' caterpillar that it travels in organized groups, such as in a head-to-tail single file line. These caterpillars live together in groups, residing in a silk bag, and only come out at night to feed. Their bristles emit venom with an anti-coagulant. Contact with this caterpillar results in severe bleeding, possibly even bleeding to death.
3. The Cinnibar Moth Caterpillar likes to snack on poisonous ragwort plants which are lethal to some forms of livestock such as cattle and horses. It is through consumption of these plants that this caterpillar gets his toxicity and he will share it with you through contact with his urticating body hair. This hair contact can cause rashes and dermatitis but it does not stop there! Also possible are renal failure, atopic asthma, consumption coagulopathy, and intra-cerebral hemorrhage.
4. The Saddleback Caterpillar has a look that screams it should not be touched, so do yourself a favor and heed the warning. This caterpillar is not only aggressive and more than willing to sting you, it is also covered in stiff spines that secrete venom so when it does sting you, you'll know it. Contact with this caterpillar causes pain comparable to that of a bee sting. You may also get a nasty rash and be nauseous for several days.
5. The Stinging Rose Caterpillar causes symptoms similar to the Saddleback Caterpillar and also bears a look that warns of avoidance. They are very brightly colored and easy to notice, but when you are admiring their color, take note of the spiny tubercles on its body; the black tips on these spines are poisonous and will break off inside of your skin if you make contact. Rashes and nausea can occur as a result.
6. The Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar is decorated with an elaborate clustering of spikes that warn against touch. If you are tempted to touch it regardless, keep in mind that this fella is also called the 'assassin caterpillar' and slowly back away. Its spines contain anti-coagulating venom potent enough to cause death. Contact can result in headaches, fever, and vomiting. If you do not seek treatment, however, that can escalate to internal hemorrhaging, renal failure, and hemolysis.
Some other caterpillars to avoid are the Pine Processionary Caterpillar, Io Moth Caterpillar, Hag Moth Caterpillar, Hickory Tussock Caterpillar, White Cedar Moth Caterpillar, and Buck Moth Caterpillar. These generally cause only itching and skin discomfort along with some nausea, but are still not something you want to touch or consume. Especially avoid the Hickory Tussock Caterpillar-in addition to everything else, that one bites, too!
The bottom line here is that if you planned to incorporate caterpillars into your survival menu, you need to rethink that plan and come up with some alternatives. Also keep in mind that even if you did find a caterpillar that was edible, many of them harbor dangerous organisms and diseases like salmonella and E. Coli, which you also do not want. That caterpillar might look delicious when times get tough, but leave it where you found it for some other sucker to eat.