What to know about the 'extremely toxic' puss caterpillar found in Florida

By Chelsea Robinson

    CLERMONT, Florida (WESH) -- It might look soft and hairy, but it's one of the most venomous caterpillars in the country.

Joel Mathis said he spotted the insect in his backyard in Clermont.

"When I looked up, there it was, this little hairy caterpillar," he said. "I saw two more on the fence. I had one on the top rail and I had one down on the fence itself."

Lucky for Mathis, he knew what it was and not to touch it.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, the puss caterpillar is common in Florida during the fall and spring on oak and elm trees, but is also found from New Jersey to Florida and west to Arkansas and Texas. It is the larvae stage of the southern flannel moth.

The puss caterpillar is covered in hair that disguises toxic bristles. The sting of the caterpillar causes severe pain that radiates throughout the body.

"There are little hollow hairs in that fluffy, hairy material," Theresa Dellinger, a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech, told CNN. "It's not going to reach out and bite you, but if someone brushes up against that hair, it'll release toxins that you'll have a reaction to."

The reaction can include an itchy rash, vomiting, swollen glands and fever.

What should you do if you are stung by one?

"It's best to try and remove any spines that may have broken off. You can use tape to kind of stick all of the spines off the area and it will leave a rash and you just want to make sure to monitor," University of Central Florida expert Jamie Ling said.

Use cellophane tape to pull the spines out of your skin as quickly as possible.

Then, wash the area thoroughly, use ice packs, an oral antihistamine, and hydrocortisone cream to help subdue the pain.

Those in "excruciating" pain should go to the emergency room.

"{The sting is] extremely painful but it's not necessarily dangerous unless people get like an allergic reaction," Ling said.

Floridians recall being stung by puss caterpillars In 2018, a Florida teen described the sting as feeling like his wrist was "on fire."

"It's burning," 15-year-old Logan Pergola told his mom, as a large grid-like mark formed on his wrist. The rash quickly crept us his arm and spread to his chest.

Andrea Pergola rushed her son to the emergency room, where the teen was given a high dose of Benadryl, prednisone and anti-nausea medication.

A woman stung in Port St. Lucie shared a similar story, saying that the sting felt like being on fire.

“My arm was out on the bench ... I thought maybe I was getting a little sunburn,” Tara Forbes said. “I looked down and I had black and white fuzz here, and white fuzz on the inside. It just immediately felt like fire, like somebody took a flame to my skin.”

Forbes said she too needed to go to the emergency room for treatment.

The-CNN-Wire
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