This is not a picture of a wildly furry puppy. This is not some new cat breed. This is a caterpillar… a Puss Caterpillar, one of the most toxic caterpillars in the United States. Why am I writing about this weird little monster? Well, my 5 year old daughter Short Stack had a brief encounter with it the other day and we are STILL dealing with the results.
Puss Caterpillars, also known as Woolly Slugs become the Flannel Moth. That soft looking “fur” you see? It contains venomous spines that react with human skin on contact. Within five minutes there is excruciating pain that can radiate from the site of contact throughout the limbs, chest and neck. It can cause nausea, restlessness, anxiety, rashes, blisters, abdominal distress, headache and difficulty breathing.
Here’s what happened to us: My husband and I were inside the house when the kids came running. There was something weird and furry on the tree and they wanted us to come look. We’ve taught them not to touch strange animals and bugs, so when we got to the tree, they were all standing around just staring at it. My husband poked it with a stick, and the caterpillar immediately dropped to the ground. Just as my two year old, Bubba was reaching for it, my husband backed him away, got the caterpillar to cling to the stick, and threw it up on the roof (the roof? I know, I couldn’t figure it out either… but that was his gut reaction I guess). That taken care of, I told the kids I would go inside and try to find out what the bug was on the computer. The first website I found was this one. By the second page of the description, when I came upon the words “excruciating unrelenting pain” I turned to my husband and said “Boy, we’re lucky none of the kids touched this thing!” Just then, Short Stack comes running into the house “I have to go to my room! My arm hurts it hurts it HURTS!!!!!” (this last part was a shriek the likes of which I have never heard coming from her mouth). We asked her if she touched the caterpillar and she kept screaming “I don’t know I don’t know MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY IT HURTS!!!!” Sure enough, there on the side of her arm was the distinct mark left by contact with the caterpillar. She must have brushed up against it right before we came outside to see it.
Writhing in pain, the best I could do to make it better was to remove any residual spikes with tape, put hydro cortisone on directly on the affected area and give her Benadryl and Tylenol. After about an hour she settled down. After three hours she only cried out intermittently. That night, she woke repeatedly and could not get comfortable. Then next morning she was bouncing around, in no pain and BEGGING to go to school. It was almost like nothing had ever happened! One side note about my daughter. Since moving to Maryland she has had a tick imbedded in her head, been stung by a jellyfish and now this. I am keeping a wary eye out for black widows and brown recluse spiders which are not uncommon in this area. It seems she is a tempting treat for all the little nasties that are around.
This bug is common throughout the Southern United States and is usually found on shade trees such as oak and elm. Do not attempt to touch this bug. Don’t try to put it in a jar, DON’T MESS WITH THIS BUG!! It’s a bad, bad bug and you will do best to give it wide berth!
For more information about the Puss Caterpillar, I found these websites helpful