Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this is not.
Now, to its credit, the puss caterpillar, the larval stage of the flannel moth, is actually much cuter than Carle’s caterpillar, with its fuzzy and soft-looking exterior making it seem more like a stuffed animal than a real one.
But don’t let that cuddly look fool you. Despite its appearance, you should do anything but cuddle a puss caterpillar if you spot one.
That’s because they are one of the most venomous caterpillars in the country, as NPR reported in September.
Indeed, underneath that fuzz, which is typically gray or orange, lie poisonous barbs that can produce quite the nasty sting.
“It felt exactly like a scorching-hot knife passing through the outside of my calf,” a woman who was stung in 2010 told the Virginia Mercury.
“Before I looked down to see where it came from, I thought 100 percent I was going to see a big piece of metal, super sharp, sticking out from my car.”
That’s quite a punch for a creature that only grows to about 1 inch in length.
As with any nasty bug bite or sting, this is no laughing matter for the many Americans who suffer from severe allergic reactions.
“Some may just have localized discomfort that lasts for just a short period of time,” entomologist Molly Keck told NPR. “Others could have something as severe as anaphylaxis or needing to seek medical attention.”
Poison Control advises that, should you get stung by a puss caterpillar, you should apply tape to the sting site (as many times as needed) to remove any hairs stuck in the site.
Then you should clean it with soap and water. Hydrocortisone cream can also be used. Of course, if the sting only worsens, you should contact a medical professional.
NPR noted that encounters with puss caterpillars typically occur when the creatures fall out of trees, or when people are removing leaves.
Fortunately, if you live west of Texas, you likely won’t encounter too many of these caterpillars.
Puss caterpillars are primarily found in Texas (where they have brilliantly nicknamed the creatures “toxic toupees”) and Florida, which is unsurprising given how much bugs like humidity.
According to YouTube channel Brave Wilderness and wildlife expert Coyote Peterson, the puss caterpillar got its name for resembling a “pussy cat.”
It needs to be pointed out that Peterson and his Brave Wilderness channel boast an impressive 20.6 million YouTube subscribers, largely thanks to Peterson letting himself get stung, bit or otherwise mauled for the sake of science. (Peterson obviously does and covers other things on his channel, but looking at his viewership numbers, it’s clear that the masses are tuning in to watch him deal with self-inflicted pain.)
Despite all that, even Peterson refused to let the puss caterpillar sting him because his “hand will feel like it is on fire.”
You can watch Peterson’s segment on it below:
Fortunately for all those concerned, Peterson notes that there have been no deaths associated with the puss caterpillar.
Even so, if someone like Peterson — who once let a snapping turtle chomp down on his (somewhat protected) arm — won’t touch a puss caterpillar, that should tell you everything you need to know about keeping those critters away from your children.
Read them “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” instead. It’s much safer.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.