The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has issued an alert to citizens statewide, urging persons not to touch or interact with the puss caterpillar after having received several reports from counties in the east.
Despite its furry, charming appearance, and being named after the domesticated house cat, the VDOF, in a statement via its official Facebook page on Tuesday (October 6), contended that puss caterpillars can cause a painful reaction in humans on contact.
“The ‘hairs’ of this caterpillar are actually venomous spines that cause a painful reaction if touched,” the Virginian forestry agency said.
The puss caterpillar, the larva of the southern flannel moth, has infamously earned the distinction as one of the most venomous insects in the United States.
The colourful moths are found from New Jersey to Florida and west to Arkansas and Texas. Puss caterpillars eat oak and elm leaves, common across the Southeast region, and can be found in parks or nearby structures.
The VDOF suggested that if persons find a puss caterpillar, “leave it alone and let its natural enemies control their populations— there are a number of other insects that will prey on them at different stages of their life cycle.”
As the caterpillars grow in size, before they change into equally fuzzy southern flannel moths, their venom becomes more toxic.
Their painful sting, delivered by the poisonous spines, is followed by swelling and redness of the skin. In more severe cases, those stung also experience symptoms including headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and palpitations (rapid heartbeat). Worse still, others may have a seizure and/or abdominal pain, according to a 2005 paper published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Puss caterpillars have a tendency of falling from trees and can easily get lodged in clothing. In these instances, people are more likely to experience multiple stings thanks to falling fuzzy caterpillars, the authors wrote.
According to the Florida Poison Information Centre (FPIC), puss caterpillar stings, though painful, are usually not life-threatening, and recommends immediately putting adhesive tape over the stung area, then peeling it off to remove the spines.