Venomous, hairy caterpillar reported in SC and GA

State - Regional

photo: Jessica Bridges, courtesy of Explore Beaufort SC

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — One of the most venomous caterpillars in the country has started making some appearances in South Carolina and Georgia.

Earlier this month, Explore Beaufort SC reported a few sightings of the puss caterpillar in the Lowcountry, including Beaufort and Lady’s Island.

News outlets in the Atlanta area have also spoken to Georgia residents that have seen the caterpillar — and one who experienced its painful sting.

Entomologist Nancy Hinkle, with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), says that while the sting can be painful, the risk of experiencing one is low.

“And most people experience only a brief and unremarkable reaction,” she added.

courtesy Virginia Department of Forestry

But the puss caterpillar’s appearance is what might make someone unaware of its toxic spines eager to touch it. It looks more like a ball of hair than an insect.

“When your skin brushes against the puss caterpillar, the spines break off, releasing an irritating fluid that produces an immediate stinging, burning sensation,” Hinkle wrote in a CAES report. “The numbness and swelling that follow may extend to your whole arm or leg in severe cases.”

Hinkle tells WSAV NOW there have been numerous reports of puss caterpillar stings this year, but that’s the case every year.

The caterpillar is native, and lives throughout the south, from Texas to Virginia. The insect likes to feed on a variety of plants, from shrubs to fruit, shade and nut trees.

To prevent a sting while outdoors or working in your yard, Hinkle suggests wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts and gloves.

If you do get stung, she recommends removing any spines, applying a cold compress and utilizing pain medication or topical hydrocortisone cream. Call your doctor if symptoms linger for more than a couple of days.

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