Wave of furry caterpillars covered with venomous spines prompt concern in Virginia
10/09/2020 // Virgilio Marin // Views

The Virginia Department of Forestry has warned residents to watch out for furry caterpillars following numerous sightings from the state’s eastern counties. The venomous puss caterpillar is covered with fur-like spines that cause intense pain upon contact. The venom can also cause swelling, fever and symptoms of shock.

Eric Day, the manager of the Insect Identification Lab at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said that the caterpillar is not common in the state. Officials usually get about one or two reports, but the recent sightings seem to indicate “an outbreak year.”

As the caterpillar appears to have soft fur, parents are told to watch their kids who may want to pet the bug. Officials said not to touch the caterpillar and let its natural enemies handle it.

Painful caterpillar sting sends victim to ER

Reports from residents paint a painful encounter with the bug.

Crystal Spindel Gaston, a resident of New Kent County, had to rush to the emergency room and took three days to feel better. She was reaching into the rear door of her car parked outside her house when she felt “a scorching-hot knife” passing through her calf.

She expected to see a big piece of metal sticking from her car. Instead, she saw a brownish, hairy creature that’s about two inches long. “It was a cross between like a mouse and a slug,” Gaston told the Daily Progress.

She would later learn it was a puss caterpillar, the larva of the rather harmless Southern flannel moth. The bug is most common in the southern states, feeding on shade trees like elm, oak and sycamore. However, they're more likely found in the backyard than the forest, said Day.


Though the caterpillar is venomous, lethal cases are rare, according to Rutherfoord Rose, the director of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virginia Poison Center, which serves more than three million people in central and eastern Virginia. Rose said that they usually get two to three cases of puss caterpillar stings a year.

“We get far more insect bites and even snake and spider bites than we do caterpillar stings,” he added. Despite the “white, hot pain” that Gaston felt and the three days she spent in the hospital, Rose told the Daily Progress that her symptoms were not “unusually bad” as they typically last up to a week. (Related: Avoid insect bites this outdoor season without resorting to nerve gas sprays.)

Nevertheless, a person who got stung should immediately wash the affected area to remove any fur strand or poison, according to Virginia Tech in a statement. One could also apply an adhesive tape and strip it off quickly. Experts warn not to brush or knock the caterpillar off as doing so might break more fur strands and further irritate the skin.

While people who are sensitive to insect bites should seek medical attention, healthy individuals will not suffer any severe effects and will turn out fine without any complications. However, a sting could leave a big welt on the skin.

In Florida, a boy had to be sent to the hospital after getting stung. According to the boy’s mother, Andrea Pergola, she heard her son let out a scream on their driveway and saw a strange pattern forming on his arm that looked like a burn mark. Among the boy’s symptoms were numbness, sharp pain, and dizziness, Pergola wrote in a Facebook post in 2018.

A few schools in Texas also closed temporarily in 1923 and 1951 after puss caterpillars were reportedly stinging children.

Read more articles about venomous insects invading communities at Ecology.news.

Sources include:



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