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Sightings of a Furry, Yet Venomous Caterpillar

Recently there have been some sightings of a venomous caterpillar in eastern Virginia. This furry creature is said to be “one of the most venomous caterpillars in the US”. The recent sightings have been appearing in parks or near certain public structures. (Source: CNN)

"There are little hollow hairs in that fluffy, hairy material," said Theresa Dellinger, a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech.

In general, caterpillars that sting have urticating hairs, poison spines, or sometimes, in this case, they have both. According to Dellinger, urticating hairs are defined as, “... simple bristles that easily dislodge upon contact. There may be tiny barbs along the hair shaft that help the hairs embed in a victim’s skin.”

The urticating hairs and poison spines can cause a stinging, burning reaction when they come in contact with the skin, they are often as painful as a bee sting.

"It's not going to reach out and bite you, but if someone brushes up against that hair, it'll release toxins that you'll have a reaction to,” said Dellinger.

According to the University of Michigan, these reactions may include:

  • Immediate, intense pain that often comes in waves

  • A swelling, itching rash of red blotches, and raised ridges

  • Restlessness and anxiety

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever

  • Muscle cramps

  • Swollen glands

  • Symptoms of shock

When a person is first “stung” by the hairy caterpillar they mustn’t brush the caterpillar off, as this may break more hairs and further spread the irritation or even the poison. The irritation will last for about a day or two and some may have nausea during the first few hours after contact.

“The severity of the reaction produced by a stinging caterpillar may vary according to a person’s sensitivity.” (Source: Theresa Dellinger at Virginia Tech)

A resident of Richmond, Virginia described the sting like “a scorching-hot knife”. A Florida mother said her teenage son began screaming when they were “stung” by one of the puss caterpillars. (Source: CNN).

Steps once stung by the furry caterpillar include:

  • Immediately wash the affected area, while removing any insect hairs and poison that remain on the skin

  • Adhesive tape can be applied to the skin and removed quickly to pull out hairs or spines embedded in the skin. Note, fresh tape for each application is necessary to not spread the hairs.

  • An ice pack will help reduce swelling

  • Creams and lotions containing steroids will lessen the discomfort and promote healing

"If someone is susceptible to bee stings, treat it like one," Dellinger told CNN, "Go ahead and seek medical treatment, if you have had bad reactions to other insects in the past."

According to the University of Michigan, these caterpillars are usually found in southern states, “ranging west through most of Texas and north to Maryland and Missouri”. They feed on shade trees such as elm, oak, and sycamore. The puss caterpillars range in size from 1.2 in. to 1.4 in.


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