Stay away from the stinging puss caterpillar, says Virginia Tech insect expert

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An increase in sightings of the stinging puss caterpillar in Virginia is prompting renewed warnings from insect experts, including Virginia Tech’s Eric Day.  

“Touching it has the potential to cause a painful reaction,” said Day, the manager of Insect ID Lab in the Department of Entomology.  “The hairs on the caterpillar are really venomous spines.  It’s best to know what they look like and stay away.”

Not much larger than a penny, Day provided an image of a puss caterpillar that he’s preserved in alcohol for years. The larva of the species is entirely covered by a thick carpet of long grayish-tan to dark brown hairs with a rusty stripe down the center of the back and can resemble a tiny mouse.

“Symptoms should be monitored and people who are stung should use their own judgment about seeking medical attention,” he said. “I’d suggest taking a picture of the caterpillar and showing a doctor if symptoms worsen.”

Day says it’s too early to tell if the increase in reports is influenced by climate change or some other factors.  And he says it’s important not to overstate the increase in sightings.

“Outbreak is a big word, but the numbers are much higher,” Day said. “And definitely the number of reports are much higher.”

Eric Day is an expert in urban and forest insects, and serves as manager of the Virginia Tech Insect Identification Lab, in the Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Fact sheet on the stinging caterpillar

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