Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pack Saddle Worms and Angels - A True Story

Pack Saddle Worms and Angels - A True Story

by Charles Tant

I was playing ball in our front yard on a hot South Carolina, late August afternoon, many years ago. That afternoon is forever etched into my memory, and it is all thanks to a small, colorful caterpillar-like worm known as a Pack Saddle.

I was tossing the ball high into the air when I lost it in the sun. It fell into a nearby bush, and of course, I went in after it.  Just as my finger tips were approaching the ball, a violent pain ripped through the inside of my upper left arm. I have tried to find the words to describe that sensation, but the most accurate seems to be that it felt like molten lava had been injected under my skin.

Suddenly, the ball was no longer important. I jumped back, withdrawing my arm as quickly as possible. I saw a row of rapidly growing whelps stretching from my arm pit to my elbow. The pain was nearly unbearable. The typical response for a nine year old boy would be to grab the arm and jump around, while trying to choke back the tears. That was exactly how I responded. My efforts were not successful. I jumped around the yard as much as I had ever jumped around. While I didn’t actually scream in pain, I found myself unable to hold back the tears. The pain was intense and would not go away.

My father, rest his soul, saw me jumping around and crying, and came running outside to see what was wrong. He took one look at my arm and I knew it must be really bad. His eyes bugged out as he stared at the large whelps on my skin.

About that time we heard a soft voice ask, “Sir, is he okay? We both turned and saw an angel standing on the sidewalk. Well, I saw an angel, but I’m certain my father didn’t see the same thing. He saw a teenaged girl, a student from the high school located just one block from our home.

Our house had a long white cement wall along the front of our yard. It was less than three feet tall at its highest, and it separated our yard from the sidewalk. The girl jumped over the wall and came over to where we were standing. She took a look at my arm and said, “I’ll bet that was a Pack Saddle.” She asked where I was when I got stung. I showed her the bush, and she immediately began looking for the culprit. In seconds she shouted, “There it is...a Pack Saddle.”

My father and I looked at the leaves she was pointing to, and there it was, a beautiful green little worm with a brown spot saddle and four spiked horns on its back. She said, “Each of those little hair-like spikes are stingers, and the poison burns like fire for hours.”

She put her arm around me trying to comfort me and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine after while, but you’re going to be in a lot of pain until then.”

Suddenly the sting didn’t seem so bad. Because of that little painful worm I was standing in my front yard with a pretty girl not only standing beside me, but she even had her arm around me. She went inside our house and called her mom to tell her where she was, and to have her come to our house to pick her up.

When she came back outside she sat down beside me on the porch swing and put her arm around me. “Is it still hurting,” she asked? Yeah, but I’ll be okay,” I said. There was no more jumping around or shedding tears. I was in the presence of an older woman who had just stolen my heart. I knew I needed to man-up, and I needed to do it fast.

She told me about her experience with a Pack Saddle worm a few years earlier. We had so much in common. A few minutes later a car stopped in front of our house. It was her mom. I did not want my new “girlfriend” to leave. I was in a lot of pain, but it was worth it. As she walked across the yard, towards her mom’s car, I felt so sad that she was leaving, and wondered if I would ever see her again.

That little worm had stung me, but heaven had sent me an angel. I can still see her standing there next to the car waving good-bye. She was tall, had long brown hair, sky blue eyes, tanned skin, white tank top, green volleyball shorts, knee high white and green athletic socks, and white canvas Converse sneakers. What all American boy wouldn’t fall in love with a girl like that? The pain in my young heart was worse than the pain in my arm as she drove away and out of sight. I had been stung by a little green worm, and shot with Cupid’s arrow in the same day.

That was my first experience with the mean green little Pack Saddle worm, and it was also my first crush. What a day that was. It was a day that I will never forget.

A couple of days later there was a knock on our front door. I opened the door and standing there again was my  “girlfriend.” She had come back to check on me. I thought that just maybe she had a crush on me too. I was nine. She was seventeen. Hey, it could happen. As with most crushes I kept my feelings to myself. I like to think that she felt the same way, but kept her feeling to herself only because of what other people may think. The obvious age difference could have presented a few social problems for both of us. People do like to talk about such things.

I learned that my girlfriend’s name was Angela and she was a senior at Easley High School. She came back to visit me many times during that school year. Sadly, the visits stopped when she graduated and went away to college. I never heard from her again. I still remember Angela with fond memories, and how she showed such warm kindness to a little boy who had been stung by a Pack Saddle worm.

Years later, I met another angel, who would soon become my wife. I had learned my lesson years earlier. I was not going to allow this angel to slip through my fingers. Maybe Angela had made a much stronger impact on my life than even I had been aware.  My fiance was tall, with long brown hair, sky blue eyes, and tanned olive skin. But this time I had met an angel without having to endure the intense pain of the Pack Saddle’s sting.

Fast forward 17 years. My wife and I are celebrating our sixteenth wedding anniversary this month. We have two beautiful children. Our son is eight, and our baby girl has just turned three. Life is good.

On September 1, my son, then 7, was playing outside. He was going to ride his new bicycle, but as he disengaged the kickstand, he felt a sharp pain in his knee. He dropped his bicycle, grabbed his knee, and began jumping around the yard, trying to choke back the tears. I ran to the bicycle and there it was, a beautiful, little green worm with four spiked hair covered horns on its back. Yes, it was a Pack Saddle. It was just sitting there on his bicycle seat. I’m not sure why it was on the bicycle seat. Surely it realized that it’s legs could never reach the pedals. But for whatever reason, there it was in all its stinging glory.

Fortunately, my son just lightly brushed up against the stinging spines. It was painful, but it could have been a lot worse. I had already told him about my experience with the Pack Saddle when I was a boy. He was in pain, but excited that he too now had his own Pack Saddle story to tell.

His painful sting was not as severe, thanks in part to the quick application of papain enzyme. Papain is found in many meat tenderizers, and helps neutralize painful stings from all types of stinging critters, including the Pack Saddle. It becomes even more effective when the papain is mixed with apple cider vinegar and made into a paste. The paste stays on the affected area easier and longer than the powder alone. The acetic acid in the vinegar also helps to neutralize the poison from the sting.

Now my son tells everyone about his experience with the Pack Saddle. Then he proudly tells them about how to treat the sting with a natural method.

Weeks pass and October rolls around. The outside temperature is a cool 54 degrees, but it feels even cooler thanks to a slow drizzle that is falling. I’m putting in a late night, working on my new web site, when suddenly one of our friends knocks on our front door. It’s after 1:00 A.M. so I know it’s an emergency.

She is standing there in the drizzling rain, holding her wrist, with tears streaming down her face. She said, “I was just bitten or stung by something and it’s hurting so bad I can’t stand it.” I looked at her wrist and there were six whelps that looked very familiar. She said, “I didn’t see anything, but whatever it was, it was mad, and painful.”

I took her into the kitchen and mixed up a paste of papain and vinegar and had her apply it to the affected area. She had been outside checking on one of the dogs, and while out there decided to put a little extra food in its bowl. That’s when the stings occurred. While she was applying the home remedy I went outside to the bowl and searched the area with a flashlight.

It didn’t take long to find the culprit, our old friend the Pack Saddle. There he was on the side of the dog’s food bowl. Bright green body with a brown spot on its back that looks like a saddle. On either end were the dreaded spike covered horns, four in all. He didn’t seem to be mad. In fact, he wasn’t moving at all. Like most Pack Saddles, he was just sitting there calmly resting up, waiting for his next victim to come along and disturb him.

Our friend was in severe pain for a while, but the papain and vinegar helped reduce some of the pain and its duration. The next day the sting area was itchy, but the pain was gone. Four days later, the whelps are smaller, but still there.

The Pack Saddle is a pretty little worm and with a very big sting. With every spike on each horn being a stinger, one little Pack Saddle can be the equivalent of ten to fifteen yellow jackets stinging all at once. He’s small, and beautiful to look at, but he packs a big wallop.

It’s hard to imagine the purpose for such a painful little worm in the big scheme of things, but I’m sure there is a purpose. We may never know exactly what that purpose is, but we must have respect for it just the same.

Not many animals, regardless of their size, can cause the biggest of men to react to a simple sting the way a Pack Saddle can. I have learned that they can pop up where you least expect them. My whole family now keeps their eyes peeled for little green worms. We never know when the pretty little worm that stings with the fire of molten lava will strike again.

I have been stung by nearly every type of bee imaginable. I have even been stung by scorpions. We all know the reputation that scorpions have created for themselves, and rightly so. Their sting can be very painful, but even the dreaded scorpion is no match for the Pack Saddle’s sting. One little worm taught a nine year old boy to respect even the smallest of creatures. It was a lesson that remains firmly embedded in my mind to this day. Maybe that is the purpose of the Pack Saddle worm, to teach humans to respect all of creation, big and small.

Most people will go through life without having ever heard of the Pack Saddle. A few will experience the excruciating pain of its sting, a sting that comes without warning. If you are one of the unfortunate victims of this little green terror, don’t worry. In a few hours, the pain will pass and you will be left with a memory that will be with you until the end of your days. You may feel like the end is near when you get stung, but you will soon be fine.

For me, the Pack Saddle sting was very painful, but left me with not only a memory, but a story to tell others, including my kids. Now that my little boy has also felt that painful sting, he feels like he is now part of an exclusive club of Pack Saddle survivors. I wish you could see his face light up when he tells someone about his Pack Saddle experience. My little girl feels left out, and wants her own Pack Saddle story to tell.  I hope and pray that she misses out on that life experience, but considering the number of Pack Saddles we have around here, I’m afraid she will have her own story to tell soon enough.

Take some advice from someone who has felt its painful sting. If you ever see a beautiful, but strange looking little green worm, with four spike covered horns, and a brown saddle spot on its back, leave it alone! Don’t kill it. Look at it and show it the respect it deserves. It’s a rare treat to see one. So enjoy the experience, and be thankful you didn’t touch it. Be very thankful.


Charles Tant, the author, is an Internet marketing expert, teacher, consultant, and copywriter. He is a South Carolina native and currently lives in the foothills of the upstate with his beautiful wife, two kids, eleven rescue dogs, and an unknown number of Pack Saddle worms . Some of his web sites include,   and .