Two photographs – one shows an insect and the other one shows a deceased person – are being shared on social media with a claim that the man died due to the insect's sting, which is extremely fatal. The message warns people and urges them to forward it to others to create awareness.
However, we found that the claim is false.
The photograph of the deceased person was from Maharashtra and it showed a person who died after being struck by lightning.
As far as the insect is concerned, we reached out to scientists at Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) who told us that insect, which is called the 'Stinging Nettle Slug Caterpillar', is not fatal.
Contact with the insect causes pain and itching for a short period of time, but it subsides with cleaning. We also went through studies conducted on the caterpillar and nowhere did it mention that the insect could lead to death.
The claim that is going viral, when translated from Hindi, reads, "Brothers, such an animal has come inside the fields, people die immediately after being stung by this insect. If you part of any groups, then send this news to them as well."
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
Project Noha, an open platform used by people to talk about wildlife and biodiversity, had a page on this insect where it was mentioned that the sting of this bug causes itching and pain. However, none of the websites mentioned that it was fatal.
We then reached out to Dr SC Dubey, Assistant Director General (Plant Protection and Biosafety), ICAR-National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources.
Dr Dubey dismissed the claim about the insect's sting being fatal and said, "So far, no cases of severe allergies due to this pest have been observed in India and abroad."
"The nettle caterpillar often gets irritated by any disturbance during their feeding. If one touches their spine and hair, the slug’s body releases some toxic substances (small peptide toxins) that causes itching and allergic reactions due to activation of mammalian pain-sensing neurons."SC Dubey, Assistant Director General (Plant Protection and Biosafety), ICAR-National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources
"It is a defence mechanism for the slug caterpillar to ward off the parasites and predators. The pain, itching, and allergic reaction lasts for a short time and subsides with cleaning," he added.
A study conducted in Thailand on the toxins released by the caterpillar also found said that the sting causes burning and itching. Another report, published by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawai'i, discussed the impact of the sting on humans but doesn't mention anything about death.
WHAT ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE DECEASED PERSON?
We conducted a reverse image search on the deceased person's photograph and found the image in a tweet published on 13 September.
The user, tagging Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, shared a few images and wrote that the people in the photograph after they were struck by lighting.
According to the reports, a father-son duo was hit by a lightning strike and lost their lives in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra on 9 September. Another woman was also struck by lightning but managed to survive.
We also reached out to local reporter in Jalgaon, who confirmed that the incident took place in Nhave village of Chalisgaon municipality.
The reporter added that the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, Mangesh Chavan, handed over a cheque of eight lakh, on behalf of the government, as compensation to the family of the deceased.
Evidently, the claim that this insect can kill people instantly is false.