(WFLA/NEXSTAR) — They may look cute and cuddly but they’ve also been described as one of the most venomous creatures in the U.S. Ever heard of “puss caterpillars?”
Many Central Florida residents are currently experiencing the return of the inch-long crawlers typically found on oak and elm trees. The caterpillars (also known as “asps”) are covered in furry-looking hair — which hide “extremely” toxic spines that stick to your skin, according to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
Puss caterpillar stings can involve itching, burning, rashes, lesions and swelling — sometimes in several places on the body.
Measuring around an inch long, the puss caterpillar is common in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Arkansas, in addition to surrounding areas. The bugs are typically seen in fall and spring months.
Then 15-year-old Logan Pergola, of Central Florida, told WFLA in Tampa a puss caterpillar stung him while he was out with his family, leaving a large grid-like mark on his wrist.
“It’s burning,” he told his mom before the pain radiated to his chest.
Looking at photos of the caterpillar, you might wonder: where are its head and legs? They’re there, just hidden by hair. Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension explains puss caterpillars have chewing mouthparts.
Interesting (gross) fact: puss caterpillars propel their feces. The University of Florida says this may be to keep feces off their food.
After a winter cocoon phase, the caterpillars will emerge as flannel moths — also known as southern flannel moths. Adults have wingspans around 1-1.5 inches long, Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida says. Wing colors are usually yellow and black (front wings) and cream yellow on hid wings. Their thoraxes are typically orange.
While it’s best to leave them alone altogether, experts say if you do get stung, get the spines out of your skin as soon as possible using cellophane tape. Ice packs, oral antihistamine, and hydrocortisone cream can also be used to help with the pain.
Even though southern flannel moths are less hazardous than puss caterpillars, officials say you should still probably resist touching them.