This morning I was out in the garden attempting to harvest another heaping pint of yellow pear tomatoes from the masses of vines. My hands began itching from touching the leaves and stems, so I went inside and washed them before heading back out to try again.
On my way out the door, I noticed my thornless trailing blackberry bush had several stems that needed to be wound round the upturned tomato cage trellis. I tucked one stem up, then moved to the next and tuck it up too. I felt a prick on my wrist where I thought a serrated leaf had scratched my already irritated skin. But then the spot began to hurt badly and itch. It became worse so I ran inside to wash my hands again and apply a sunburn lidocaine gel that is very helpful in relieving small itches.
But then the spot felt more like a sting, or bite, so I walked back to the plant to see if there was a spider hanging around. I found this.
Well, that was the exact area I had just been tucking into the trellis. I looked at my wrist again, and there was now a bumpy rash. A closer look revealed tiny black hairs that I had spread around when I scratched. I ran back inside and used a very sticky lint roller to pull all the hairs off. I then applied a strong steroid ointment to the rash, grabbed a plastic glove (the kind worn by lunch ladies in cafeterias) and headed back to the plant.
I realized just how fortunate I was when saw this fuzzy mass.
Meet the Io moth. The caterpillars of this particular moth are known for their colony feeding habit, the train they use to move from leaf to leaf, and, of course, their painful sting by the tiny black hairs mixed in with the fuzzy yellow.
I used gloves and scissors to remove these guys from the plant since I didn't want them devouring my blackberry vines. I taught the boys about them and made sure they knew not to touch them or the blackberry plant in case more should show up. Then I threw them in the compost bin.
I knew something had been munching my plant from time to time, but I thought it was a couple random gulf fritillary caterpillars. I had seen one before and more recently found this chrysalis. While that may be true, clearly the io moth was the culprit this time.
I worked in the garden with my gloves on for the rest of the day. A lesson learned.