A Pretty Bug With a Dangerous Flare

What may look cute and furry, can lead to a lot of pain if touched. The Southern Flannel Moth (also known as the puss caterpillar) lay eggs that turn into larvae that has an appearance of having long soft hair. But do not let this tempt you to try and feel it’s fur. The moths are pretty, and so are the larvae, but they are very dangerous. They are actually one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States.

As a caterpillar, in the early larvae stage, it’s body is about an inch long and tapers down to a tail that is longer than the body, with hairy legs and fuzzy black feet. It develops very curly hair that makes it look like cotton or tufted hair. The hair is silky yellow, grey, red or mixed in color. The adult is also very fuzzy in appearance, with an orange thorax and orange at the base of its short yellow wings.

Even though the hair may look very pretty, it is hiding spines connected to poison glands. When this hair is touched by a person, the venomous hairs become embedded in the skin. These hairs, or spines, inject poison into any human or animal that tries to touch it. The most common places to be stung are the hands, arms and feet. This poison can cause intense pain, vomiting and headaches. Severe cases have occurred, requiring medical attention. The pain has been described as blunt force trauma, even making the bones hurt. So be careful not to touch.

They are primarily found along the Eastern and Southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. They are usually found on shade trees such as oaks, elms, maple, or on small bushes including roses.

Southern Flannel Moth in its Caterpillar Form

Southern Flannel Moth in its Caterpillar Form

The southern flannel moth (puss caterpillar) mates twice per year. Females usually mate the night they actually come out of the cocoon. Then they lay their eggs during the next few nights. Their eggs are laid in single or double rows that are curved. They are found on leaves or small twigs and are covered with hair from the abdomen of the female. Her eggs hatch in a week to ten days.

They have caused major problems in the past. In 1923 a severe outbreak caused a Texas school system to shut down until they could get the caterpillar population under control. It was reported that thousands of stings were reported in a single breeding season.

If you have the misfortune of being stung by this venomous caterpillar there are several suggestions to ease your pain. You can wash the sting with soap and water. Once the sting is dry, try putting tape on the sting and pull it off to remove any of the spines that have become embedded in the skin. Then put rubbing alcohol or baking soda on the area which can neutralize the venom to reduce pain, itching, and swelling. Last, you can try using an ice pack to help with the pain.

So be on the watch, as they are in Tennessee. Although this caterpillar may look cute, furry and so tempting to touch – keep your distance.