John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.
As the temperatures drop and the year begins to dwindle, it's time to keep an eye on your surroundings as the Florida-native venomous puss caterpillar is making its appearance.
In October, a man in Spring Hill, Fla. claimed he was stung by a puss caterpillar after spotting at least three near his home. In Cape Coral, Fla., a woman was casually sitting on a park bench when she felt a sting that she thought was a red ant. However, the "ant" was the puss caterpillar. Florida is not the only state to see puss caterpillars though. A girl from Texas was hospitalized after being stung by the venomous caterpillar. The insect is also found in Arkansas and New Jersey.
The larvae of the Southern Flannel Moth resemble a fuzzy creature; however, the covering that appears to be hair has venomous spikes underneath, causing pain upon contact and inflammation that could last for days. In other cases, the sting could cause symptoms such as a headache, nausea, seizure and shock-like symptoms. In some cases, only a rash is left.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, the stiff spikes are attached to poison glands and when touched, the spikes break off in the skin and cause severe pain. The caterpillars feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs and are most commonly found on oaks and citrus. The caterpillars usually appear during the spring and fall months.
The caterpillars are approximately 2.5 centimeters long and are completely covered with gray or pale brown hairs. Its head, with chewing mouthparts, is concealed underneath the dense hairs.
If you are stung by the caterpillar, contact your physician immediately. For more information about the caterpillar and similar species, log onto edis.ifas.ufl.edu.