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article imageScientists warn us to stay away from the 'Puss' caterpillar

By Karen Graham     Sep 8, 2014 in Science
Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies, and while many are agricultural pests, it's hard to deny that sometimes, they are just plain fascinating. They come in so many unusual colors and variations that it's hard not to pick them up.
But that is just what scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is asking us not to do this year. The CDC is talking about one caterpillar in particular, called the southern flannel moth, pussy moth, puss caterpillar and the tree asp.
In many regions across the Southern U.S., the puss caterpillar gets its name from the long, hair-like covering on its body, called setae, that along with the markings make it resemble a tiny Persian cat. The "fur" on this early larval stage is often curly, giving the caterpillar a soft, fluffy look. Children, being fascinated by soft, cottony things are apt to pick them up to "pet" them.
But Doctors and scientists are warning everyone, do not touch these little creatures, and don't let your children touch them. That soft, pretty "fur" is full of venom. According to Fox News affiliate, My Fox-Tampa Bay, Florida, doctors from the University of Florida say the second someone touches the caterpillar, there is instant pain.
The puss caterpillar is the larval stage of a moth, Megalopyge opercularis. It is found on oaks, elms, citrus and a number of other trees, as well as on many garden plants such as roses and ivy. It can be found as far north as New Jersey, and on down into Mexico and even Central America.
That setae, or "fur" covering the caterpillar phase and the adult moth is actually a brush-like covering that's made up of spines. It is a natural protection for the insect, to keep predators from eating it, but the venom on those spines can be very dangerous to humans. The immediate reaction of intense pain and burning, along with swelling of the affected area can lead to nausea, headache, upset stomach and sometimes chest pain and even difficulty breathing, especially in people with allergies. So it is important to seek medical attention.
Southern flannel moth  Megalopyge opercularis  male. Location: Durham County  North Carolina  United...
Southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis, male. Location: Durham County, North Carolina, United States. Photo taken: July 14, 2004
Patrick Coin
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, the director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami, Florida told the Sun Sentinel in an interview in 2012 that he has seen patients pass out from the pain. "We don't see any deaths from it, but it is very painful, judging by the number of people that just are out-of-control hysterical when they call," he said.
The puss caterpillar comes around twice a year, during the early autumn and then again in the spring of the year. When it matures, the caterpillar turns into the feathered flannel moth, a far less dangerous adult than when it's in the larval stage.
Interestingly, the quickest way to get relief from the intense pain caused by the spines of this bug is to use scotch tape. By repeatedly applying a piece of tape to the affected area, you will be removing the spines, and once they are all removed, the area can be treated using cold compresses and a baking soda paste, or calamine lotion. But always, when in doubt, seek medical treatment.
More about Southern flannel moth, Caterpillars, puss caterpillar, painful reaction, Venom
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