Trophy Club, TX (October 04, 2021) – A resident who lives near the TC Fire Department was recently stung by a creature that looks way too cute to be dangerous. However, it is in fact, one of the world’s most venomous caterpillars in the United States.
The Southern Flannel Moth, also known as a Puss Caterpillar, and it is a slug-like critter covered in yellowish and orange hairs that packs quite a punch when the unsuspecting human comes in contact with this menacing caterpillar that looks like it’s related to Chewbacca.
The puss caterpillar (Megalopyge orpercularis) has hidden toxic spines underneath its fur. Experts say when your skin brushes against the puss caterpillar, the spines break off, releasing an irritating fluid that produces an immediate stinging, burning sensation.
When someone comes in contact with a puss caterpillar, the spiny hairs puncture the skin and deliver a poison that causes an immediate burning pain to spread through the body from the origin of a dotted rash left by the sting.
When these caterpillars sting, the symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that can last hours.
"It's not an instantaneous shock of a hornet or wasp, but it builds for a long time in a frightening way," TC Animal Control Officer Brian Hall says. "No one expects stings to gain in impact or discomfort, and these will, even up to an hour later. It packs quite a punch."
He says a puss caterpillar sting can cause joint pain akin to "serious arthritis" long after the pain from the initial contact has subsided.
The same resident who reached out to let our ACO know sent another photo after the initial incident where the same shrub had more than 15 puss caterpillars on it!!!! These caterpillars are most prevalent now through early November and they prefer shrubs.
How to spot a venomous caterpillar
Caterpillars that are brightly colored, have spines or hairs are probably venomous and should not be touched.
If it is in a place where it can cause problems, clip off the leaf or use a stick to relocate it. Some caterpillars' venomous spines and hairs came about as a defense mechanism against predators.
Puss caterpillars have a hairy light-brown coat that appears as "super soft and cuddly." American dagger moth caterpillars are bright yellow-green with black bristles that resemble eyebrows.
It's a warning sign for predators
What to do if you come into contact with a venomous caterpillar
The most crucial thing to know is NOT to brush the caterpillar from your skin. Swatting off the caterpillar makes it more likely that the venomous hairs or spines will be left on your clothing. Instead, very carefully remove the caterpillar with a stick or another object.
Once the caterpillar has been removed, take a shower and wash away the hairs and cool down. That might help the allergenic reaction. Wash your contaminated clothes as well, as a few hairs or spines might remain.