‘Furry doesn’t always mean friendly’: NC coastal town warns of dangerous caterpillars

A puss caterpillar found at the Kill Devil Hills town hall.
A puss caterpillar found at the Kill Devil Hills town hall. Town of Kill Devil Hills

That fuzzy little caterpillar inching by might be cute. But it could be one of the most dangerous caterpillars in the United States.

North Carolina coastal town Kill Devil Hills is warning residents to avoid “puss caterpillars” which are the offspring of flannel moths that live from New Jersey to Florida and as far west as Texas, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The puss caterpillar is “one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States,” according to the University of Florida.

“Furry doesn’t always mean friendly,” the town of Kill Devil Hills wrote on Facebook Sept. 20. “The puss caterpillar (of the Southern Flannel Moth) (jokingly called “the Toxic Toupee”) can be found from New Jersey to Florida, and as far west at Texas. Although they are very interesting creatures to observe, do not touch them!”

The town said touching the little caterpillars “can produce an immediate intense burning pain followed the appearance of a red grid-like pattern on the skin that matches the pattern of the venomous spines on the caterpillar.”

One of them was found and photographed at the Kill Devil Hills town hall, the town said.

“The name ‘puss caterpillar’ is likely in reference to the caterpillar’s resemblance to a cat with its soft fur and tail,” according to UF.

The furry caterpillars and their moth counterparts are widespread across the southeast, and have even caused some schools to shut down decades ago.

“In Texas, they have been so numerous in some years that schools in San Antonio in 1923 and Galveston in 1951 were closed temporarily because of stings to children,” according to UF.

The caterpillars can grow to about 1.6 inches long, according to UF.

In addition to the sting and grid-pattern on the skin, some people could experience “headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia, low blood pressure, seizures and more rarely, abdominal pain, muscle spasms and convulsions,” according to UF.

If you are stung, some possible treatments include: “removing broken spine tips from the skin with tape, applying ice packs, use of oral antihistamine, application of hydrocortisone cream to the site of the sting” and medical treatment at a hospital.

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