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Trouble with Tribbles? These furry venomous caterpillars are invading Virginia

By Jeff Spry
pus caterpillar

There are many perils in Mother Nature's diverse and dangerous world, from Murder Hornets and Tarantula Hawk Wasps to Australian Stinging Trees and booby-trapped Box Jellyfish, but none so strange-looking as these venomous Puss caterpillars crawling their way across eastern Virginia this year in abundance.

This strange squirming insect that might be mistaken for a living hairpiece or one of Harry Mudd's Tribbles from Star Trek is not to be trifled with, as its dense furry coat is comprised of deadly knife-like spines tainted with painful, venomous pus.

These weird wiggly creatures are actually the larval stage of the Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) and Virginia's Department of Forestry is warning people to avoid them at all costs. This year has been a banner year for the fuzzy little two-inch devils known as some of the most venomous caterpillars in North America.

caterpillar 1

"There are little hollow hairs in that fluffy, hairy material," warned Theresa Dellinger, a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech. "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."

According to the Department of Forestry, Puss caterpillars aren't rare and have been readily found in Virginia in past seasons. Normally, Florida is where they've usually been discovered, but they thrive in the arid regions of west-central Texas. Extreme climate change has been blamed for this year's proliferation of the pus-spewing pests' outbreak.

caterpillar 2

"With changes in our climate, we're seeing some insects change their population," Dellinger added. "But it's too soon to tell. Caterpillars, moths and butterflies all have cyclical periods, it's all about the right time, and the right conditions. 

While the Puss caterpillar's wicked venom is similar to severe bee stings, Crystal Spindel Gaston of Virginia's New Kent County likened the unfortunate encounter to a "scorching hot knife passing through the outside of my calf" when she accidentally brushed against one while reaching in through the door of her Prius, according to The Daily Progress

Dellinger also suggested to watch the affected site for signs of skin reddening or blistering. Those unlucky souls who've brushed up against these cruel caterpillars are encouraged to thoroughly rinse the area with soap and warm water, apply an ice pack and take a NSAID like aspirin.

puss caterpillar

"If someone is susceptible to bee stings, treat it like one," said Dellinger. "Go ahead and seek medical treatment, if you have had bad reactions to other insects in the past."

But the better option is to stay out of their path and if you see one, sneak away in the opposite direction ASAP!

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