Stinging caterpillar season has arrived in Texas

TEXAS (KTRK) -- As the weather warms up and people begin spending time outdoors, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts are warning Texans about stinging caterpillars.

"Spring foliage has brought on an abundance of caterpillars, a few of whom carry irritating or even venomous hairs," said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management for schools statewide specialist in Dallas. "We normally have fact sheets available for schools this time of year, but with most children out of school due to COVID-19, we wanted to make sure parents are aware that there are stinging caterpillars in Texas, what they look like, and how to avoid them."

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Stinging caterpillar species include the buck moth caterpillar, spiny oak slug caterpillar, hickory tussock moth caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar and Io moth caterpillar.

According to the report, the most painful caterpillar in Texas is the southern flannel moth caterpillar, also known as the asp or puss caterpillar.

Experts said an encounter with a puss caterpillar is very painful and can send you to the hospital.

"A good rule of thumb is if a caterpillar looks 'fuzzy' - don't touch it," said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension specialist in integrated pest management and entomologist, Bexar County.

Although some fuzzy caterpillars are not dangerous, you shouldn't pick them up unless you are sure it does not sting.

"These teardrop shaped caterpillars look touchable, but they are not," emphasized Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension specialist in integrated pest management for Travis County. "Asps have spines attached to venom glands that can lead to a nasty sting, rash and other issues."

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If you are stung, the symptoms could vary. You may feel immediate pain and reddish colored spots may appear on the skin. Others may not feel pain until several minutes after they are stung.

"Some people may have a more severe reaction than others, and where on your body you are stung and the thickness of that skin can affect your reaction too," said retired ARS entomologist Jerry A. Payne.

If the caterpillar is still on you, immediately brush it off, if possible, and then use tape to remove the spines that may still be in your skin, Brown said.

Washing the area with soap and water and applying an ice pack to the sting may offer some relief, and an oral antihistamine may help to relieve itching. Over-the-counter insect sting and bite relief products can also help.
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