October 18th, 2020 – 9:10 AM
Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences –
The “puss” caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) looks a little like something the cat might have coughed up. It’s hairy. Really hairy. It’s more than an inch long, with short, toxic spines hidden underneath its brown or gray fur. The hairs at the rear end form a tail-like tuft, with the head tucked under the front.
The University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences said the puss caterpillar can be quite harmful if you touch one. The “hairs” of the puss caterpillar are venomous spines that cause a painful reaction if touched.
The caterpillar’s spines cause the most painful and severe reaction of any urticating caterpillar species in the United States, UGA experts say.
When your skin brushes against the puss caterpillar, the spines break off, releasing an irritating fluid that produces an immediate stinging, burning sensation. The numbness and swelling that follow may extend to your whole arm or leg in severe cases, according to the University of Georgia’s ag specialists
Red blotches may linger for a couple of days, accompanied by a weeping rash. Lymph nodes may swell and be tender for 12 to 24 hours. Other reactions may include nausea and vomiting.
If stung by a puss caterpillar, people should remove the broken-off spines by using cellophane tape or a commercial facial peel, and then call a doctor, the health experts said.
Fortunately, researchers are not aware of any fatal cases from puss caterpillar stings — just intense pain and severe reactions.
The caterpillars eat oak and elm leaves, but they can be found in parks or near structures.
If one stings you, treat the symptoms. To remove any spines still in the skin, gently stick a piece of adhesive tape to the site and then pull it away. Applying cold compresses can lessen the pain and swelling.
Over-the-counter pain medications and topical hydrocortisone creams may help. If the symptoms include systemic reactions or don’t begin to ease up a couple of days, contact a physician.