Veterinary Importance

Under certain conditions, lepidopterous species can cause veterinary problems. These usually involve the ingestion of urticating caterpillars or the caterpillars of nonurticat-ing species, which contain toxins in their body fluids. The result is irritation and inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, variously called erucic stomatitis, eru-cicgastroenteritis, and erucicgastroenterocolitis. Reactions following ingestion may be immediate or delayed and range from being mild to fatal. Although this type of eru-cism is most common in grazing cattle, horses, and other herbivores, it also has been reported to cause severe stomatitis in dogs and cats. Canine and feline cases have followed ingestion of caterpillars and leaves contaminated with urticating hairs (Delgado, 1978). In the United States, Hemileuea maia and other Hemileuea species have been abundant enough to pose serious threats to cattle (Caffrey, 1918). In other cases, cattle have died following ingestion of the larvae or pupae of cabbage butterflies (Pieridae) containing poisonous body fluids that can cause severe enteritis (Delgado, 1978).

Cases of urticaria in domestic animals are uncommon, although they are occasionally observed in horses. Other minor concerns are the suspected involvement of adult moths in transmitting the bacterial agent of bovine infectious keratitis, or pinkeye, in Uganda (Guilbride et al., 1959) and some moths serving as intermediate hosts for the rat tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta (Belding, 1964). There are also reports of adult moths feeding on blood of chickens in coastal Ecuador, where they are known by the local inhabitants as ehupa-jjallina ("chicken suckers").

Wound-feeding and skin-piercing moths are not known to transmit any animal pathogens. However, their feeding can cause considerable irritation and discomfort, especially when associated moth populations are high and their attacks persistent. Most of the lachryphagous moths cause relatively mild discomfort and are considered more of an annoyance than a serious health problem.

The greatest problems are presented for individuals working under conditions in which urticating caterpillars commonly pose an occupational hazard. The best line of defense is to recognize, and thereby avoid contact with, those species which cause urticaria and other health-related problems. Protective clothing in the form of long-sleeved shirts, pants, gloves, and suitable headwear can greatly reduce the risks involved. In the case of workers exposed to airborne setae, the use of protective eyeglasses, masks, or respirators is recommended.

To reduce the risk of exposure to Hylesia and other moths, lights, burning candles, and fires should be extinguished in the evening to discourage the attraction of moths. Light fixtures, windowpanes, window and door frames, and other surfaces with which the moths may come in contact should be wiped clean with a damp cloth. Clothing and bed linen should be washed daily during periods of flight activity by the adult moths. This not only helps to remove urticating setae, but also destroys the water-soluble toxins. Other approaches to reducing the problem include the application of insecticides to kill Hylesia adults. It is important to immediately remove the dead moths in order to eliminate them as a source of more setae. Desensitization of individuals with a series of injections of moth extracts is also a consideration under certain circumstances. The resultant immunity, however, is not permanent.

No practical preventive measures are recommended for protecting animals from lachryphagous, wound-feeding, or hematophagous moths.

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