| Safety Corner: Venomous Insects and Arachnids|
| Florida is home to a wide variety of insects and arachnids, and some of them are venomous. Most people know about black widows and brown recluse spiders, and the nonnative fire ant is infamous, but did you know you can be seriously injured by a caterpillar?|
Four venomous caterpillars can be found on Florida plants, including this little guy, the flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis). Found across the eastern and central U.S. from New Jersey to Texas, the adult (winged) stage of the flannel moth is quite beautiful and poses no threat. But its larvae, known affectionately as “puss caterpillar” due to its woolly appearance, is one of the most venomous caterpillars in the U.S.
With venomous spines hidden in its thick, hair-like exterior, the toxins it injects in whatever it touches not only cause localized pain but can also result in systemic reactions ranging from headache and fever to abdominal pain, muscle spasms and, in some extreme cases, seizures.
Whenever in the wilderness, it is best to avoid contact by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. If stung, removing the spines immediately, either with tweezers or tape, is very helpful in reducing exposure to the toxin. Remedies can include applying ice packs, taking antihistamines, and applying hydrocortisone.
The caterpillar’s host plants include oak and elm. Land management staff members have encountered this caterpillar on a few occasions and urge anyone who works or plays in the Florida environment to keep an extra eye out for these easily overlooked insects.