Puss Caterpillar - Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.
It's oh-so-cute, but oh-so-dangerous - the Southern Flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis), especially in its caterpillar form. The caterpillar looks kind of like a little pussycat, but it is not to be touched. The soft hair hides venomous spines.
The severity of the sting depends a lot on the sensitivity of the individual and the thickness of the skin where it's stung. One first feels an intense burning sensation and a red grid-like pattern on the skin where the person is stung. But that may only be the beginning of it. Much more serious symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, seizures and even abdominal pain, muscle spasms and convulsions can occur.
Who is most likely to encounter the Puss caterpillar? Children can certainly be stung. Its soft fur looks like it'd be fun to touch. Or, one might accidentally brush against it while walking in meadows or woods.
The Furry Puss caterpillar is found from New Jersey to Florida and westward to Arkansas and Texas. One year, its population in Texas grew to the point that school children were threatened and schools were closed.
Once the Furry Puss reaches the adult stage, the venomous spines disappear. At this point it's known as the Southern Flannel moth. It's still cute, but not to be welcomed.
If you live in this caterpillar's native range, be sure to warn your children of it, and take care yourself.
By Patrick Coin (Patrick Coin) - Photograph taken by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5