US/World

'Puss Caterpillars' Are Cute And Fuzzy, But They’re Also Poisonous: Florida Scientists Warn Of Their Venomous Bristles

puss caterpillar
The puss caterpillar, also referred to as the pussy moth or the asp caterpillar, might look cute and fuzzy, but in reality contains venomous bristles that burn the skin. Wikimedia / CC BY 2.5

Florida scientists are sending out warnings about a particular caterpillar known as a puss caterpillar, noting that these little critters might appear cute and fuzzy, but in reality are quite dangerous to the human touch.

Underneath the fluff that makes the caterpillar resemble a cute crawling cotton ball, puss caterpillars have bristles that can break off onto human skin and cause “instant, immediate, and intense” pain, according to doctors. The bristles can lead to a skin reaction, which could ultimately turn into vomiting, fever, convulsions, and a drop in blood pressure. Depending on the person, the reaction could be anything from an annoying itching sensation to a serious reaction requiring medical care. It’s possible that the caterpillar’s sting could be worse than that of a scorpion, jellyfish, or bee when it comes to pain. The puss caterpillar can be found in elm, oak, and sycamore trees in Florida.

According to doctors at the Poison Center in Tampa, children need to be educated about the caterpillar’s dangers. Because of the caterpillar’s innocent appearance, many children are tricked into wanting to pet them. If you’re stung by one of these little critters, cover the skin with scotch tape to pull out the spines, unless the reaction is bad enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. Ice can help soothe the area and reduce swelling and stinging. Afterward, a paste of baking soda and water over the area will help.

Also known as the Megalopyge opercularis, the puss caterpillar is sometimes referred to as the southern flannel moth, the pussy moth, tree asp, or asp caterpillar.

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