Virginia Officials Warn of Furry, Venomous Caterpillars: Should Other States Be Concerned?

The puss caterpillar looks peculiar--sort of like a toupee dropped onto a tree branch. But below the thick fur pelt covering the worm-like insect are venomous spines capable of causing upon contact intense pain, an itchy rash, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, fever, muscle cramps, swollen glands, and even symptoms of shock. Due to these extreme reactions, the puss is considered the most dangerous caterpillar in the United States. Even scarier, there's also a chance you could spot one in nearly any state of the country.

Puss Caterpillar
The Puss Caterpillar--the most dangerous caterpillar in the US Getty

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) recently sent out a warning on Facebook that it had received multiple reports of puss caterpillar sightings in eastern counties of the state.

The puss--called such because its coat resembles cat fur--is the larva of the much more attractive southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis). As its name suggest, the moth and its larva are indigenous to southern states, and they are commonly found in states as far south as Florida and as west as Texas. Though their hair is often dark, it can also be orange, which has prompted many people to call it a Trumpillar in sightings from Tennessee to Pennsylvania. Yes, Pennsylvania. They've also been spotted in northern states like New Jersey and even Maryland. Some experts pin this on climate change. All number of southern animals and insects have started making their way north, where temperatures are now warmer and rain more common (which the puss caterpillars apparently love to wash their long, luscious locks).

The West Coast had their murder hornets--large aggressive hornets with a nasty sting--earlier this year, so many doomsayers may see this as the next logical step of ecological doom. Whatever the case, you should be on the lookout for them. They are usually about 1.2 to 1.4 inches in size, and they are called a variety of names, including woolly slugs, asp caterpillars, and opossum bugs. They primarily eat oak and elm leaves, which means they are most often spotted in the woods or in parks. However, they have been known to turn up in some unexpected areas. Just ask Crystal Spindel Gaston of Virginia, who recently told the Daily Progress about her experience after she brushed up against one hanging on her Prius. When she immediately felt a pain "like a scorching-hot knife" on her calf, she went to the ER. (She was treated and is okay.)

If you have the misfortune of coming into contact with a puss caterpillar, remove the broken-off spines with cellophane tape or a commercial facial peel and then call a doctor. If you can't reach a doctor, treat the wound like a bee sting in the meantime. This includes cleaning the area with soap and water, applying ice, and taking aspirin to relieve the pain. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to pet it.

If you are not already sufficiently grossed out, click on the video below: