The state Department of Forestry is warning residents after multiple sighting of the puss caterpillar was reported in "parks or near structures" in Eastern Virginia. The puss caterpillar is coated with thick fur that looks soft, but in actuality, it is lined with venomous spines.
"There are little hollow hairs in that fluffy, hairy material," a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech, Theresa Dellinger, explained per CNN. "It's not going to reach out and bite you, but if someone brushes up against that hair, it'll release toxins that you'll have a reaction to."
These reactions could include itchy rash, vomiting, swollen glands, fever, and other painful symptoms. One woman described the sensation as being cut by a "scorching-hot knife."
The puss caterpillar isn't native to Virginia. It's normally found in more southern states like Texas or Midwestern states like Missouri, but they have migrated to Virginia due to changes in climate.
"With changes in our climate, we're seeing some insects change their population," Dellinger continued. "But it's too soon to tell. Caterpillars, moths, and butterflies all have cyclical periods, it's all about the right time, and the right conditions."
Although scientists think natural predators will eventually keep the caterpillars in check, experts have decided step in until balance is maintained. As far as the caterpillars' venom, Dellinger says to treat the interactions like bee stings.
"If someone is susceptible to bee stings, treat it like one," she said. "Go ahead and seek medical treatment, if you have had bad reactions to other insects in the past."
She also suggests monitoring the skin to ensure that the reactions don't get worse.
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