Hairy Caterpillars With Incredibly Painful, Venomous Sting Found in Florida

by Megan Molseed

The very fuzzy and decidedly cute “puss” caterpillars are popping up in Florida recently. However, this isn’t necessarily a welcome surprise as these caterpillars, officially known as the Megalopyge opercularis caterpillar is highly venomous. Plaguing those who touch it with a dose of painful toxins. These toxins are located beneath the fluffy fur and cause immense pain to their victims.

The Highly Venomous “Puss” Caterpillar Aren’t Nearly As Cuddly As They Look

The fuzzy “puss” caterpillar is the larvae of the puss moth, otherwise known as the southern flannel moth. And, they are said to be one of the most venomous caterpillars in all of the United States. These hairy larvae are said to resemble a “fluffy cat.”

However, its hairy appearance isn’t nearly as cute as it may seem. The puss caterpillar’s hairs are hollow, each one with a venom gland at the base. And, the larvae get fluffier each time it molts. This means that the hairs become more and more toxic as the caterpillar continues to grow.

“Most people will experience some intense burning pain at the stinging site,” notes Lyle Buss, an entomologist from the University of Florida’s Insect Identification Lab during a conversation with Newsweek.

“But,” Buss adds, “a small percentage of people may have a more serious allergic response.”

One Florida resident who suffered the puss caterpillar’s sting a few years ago describes the sting as a “pain” that was “jumping from one area.”

“I just don’t wish it on nobody,” the sting victim relates. “It was the worst.”

The Intensity Of The Sting Can Vary … But It’s Rarely Fatal

The amount of pain the caterpillar’s sting gives its victims can vary. Also, the intensity of the sting varies depending on where on the body the sting has occurred.

“The burning sensation went away in a day or so,” notes Eric Day a victim of the fuzzy larvae. Day also serves as the manager of Virginia Tech’s Insect ID Lab.

“But that blister and then subsequent kind of irritated area was visible for several weeks,” Day relates.

“It’s not an instantaneous shock of a hornet or wasp,” another sting victim recounts. “But it builds for a long time in a frightening way.”

While the pain from the puss caterpillar’s sting is described as intense, they are not deadly. In fact, deaths related to the puss caterpillar have only occurred in individuals who have had a severe reaction to the sting.

Using tape to remove the venomous spine tips from the sting area may help alleviate some of the pain for those who are stung. Experts also recommend applying an ice pack to the area of the sting and using oral or topical antihistamines.