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Cat’s caterpillar looks innocent, but its poisonous barbs have a brutal sting: NPR


The pus caterpillar has poisonous barbs along its hairy body. An insect bite causes extreme pain and can lead to blisters that can last for weeks.

North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation


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North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

Cat's caterpillar looks innocent, but its poisonous barbs have a brutal sting: NPR

The pus caterpillar has poisonous barbs along its hairy body. An insect bite causes extreme pain and can lead to blisters that can last for weeks.

North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

The cat caterpillar bears a striking resemblance to Cousin Itt of the Addams Family, a fuzzy little insect that you can’t help but want to touch. However, beneath its hairy surface lie poisonous barbs that pack a powerful sting, which can lead to days or even weeks of pain.

One of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States, the cat feasts on foliage in states between New Jersey and Florida and as far west as Texas. Most encounters usually occur when the caterpillar accidentally falls from a tree or when people remove leaves around their house.

A cat caterpillar stung Virginia Tech Insect Identification Laboratory Director Eric Day when he accidentally brushed against a tree while mowing his lawn in rural Virginia. He said it resulted in a burning sensation and a blister about an inch long at the site of the sting.

“The burning sensation was gone in about a day, but that blister and then the type of irritated area that followed was visible for several weeks,” he recalls.

The caterpillar can grow to just over 1 inch long and is covered in gray and orange hairs, which have venom glands at the base, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. It is commonly found in Florida, but is more abundant in Dallas and southern Texas.

The level of pain from the caterpillar’s sting varies from person to person, but entomologist Molly Keck of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said the venom can be dangerous for people who suffer extreme reactions to the caterpillars. Insect bites.

“Some may just experience localized discomfort that only lasts for a short time. Others might have something as serious as anaphylaxis or need to see a doctor,” Keck told NPR.

She said the caterpillars can be found most often in the fall and spring, when people spend time outdoors.

If you are bitten by the caterpillar, the National Capital Poison Center recommends using duct tape to remove the hairs, then gently washing the area with soap and water. If the bite site begins to itch, use hydrocortisone cream or a paste of baking soda and water for relief.

If the pain gets worse, see a doctor, Keck said. The sting has been known to cause anaphylaxis in rare cases, which can be life threatening.

NPR News

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