Florida’s ‘puss caterpillars’ may look cute and fuzzy, but can pack venomous punch

Puss caterpillar (Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Florida’s “puss caterpillars” may look like cute and fuzzy creatures you could just reach out and pet, but scientists are warning people to stay away from them, because their seemingly soft “fur” can actually pack a venomous punch.

It’s the time of year when the insects like to venture out in the Sunshine State.

Puss caterpillars, the larval stage of the southern flannel moth, are common in the fall and spring months here in Florida and live on oak and elm trees, according to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

According to researchers at the University of Florida, their name “is likely in reference to the caterpillar’s resemblance to a cat with its soft fur and tail.”

They’re considered to be one of the most venomous insects in the country.

“The caterpillar is covered in hair-like bristles with an orange streak frequently running down its back,” a blog post from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation says. “Hidden among its attractive hairs are extremely toxic spines that stick to your skin. Stings can be incredibly painful, radiating throughout the body.”

Back in 2014, Local 10 News reported that puss caterpillars were falling out of trees in South Florida.

If stung, it’s “recommended to get the spines out of your skin as soon as possible with the aid of cellophane tape,” the Fish & Wildlife Foundation says.

“Ice packs, oral antihistamine, and hydrocortisone cream are some of the methods that can be used to help with the pain,” according to the organization.

Experts recommend medical attention if symptoms are severe.


About the Author:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.