Numerous venomous caterpillar species can be found in every region of the continental United States. Venomous caterpillars are particularly abundant in the northeast where multiple native and invasive species can be found in residential areas. While the northeast US may see the greatest abundance of venomous caterpillar species within urban and suburban areas, the most dangerous caterpillar species is most prevalent within the south and southeastern regions of the US. This species is commonly known as the southern flannel moth caterpillar, and they are responsible for sending numerous residents to the emergency room every year. One of the most recent envenomation cases involving this species occurred in Texas last fall. This incident saw a five year-old girl sustain a serious sting after a specimen fell from a tree and landed on her arm.
The southern flannel moth caterpillar can be found as far north as New Jersey and as far west as central Texas. The stings inflicted by this caterpillar species are extraordinarily painful, and potentially deadly. Unlike many stinging insect species, the southern flannel moth caterpillar inflicts stings via its venomous hair-fibers. These venomous hair fibers become embedded within human skin where they continue to inject venom into the bloodstream. In order to prevent serious injury, southern flannel moth hair fibers must be quickly removed from skin following contact. The five year old girl who fell victim to a southern flannel moth caterpillar sting was lucky enough to have adults nearby who rapidly removed the venomous hair fibers from her skin before serious systemic effects occurred. Luckily, the girl only experienced local pain and swelling and a minor upset stomach, but less fortunate victims can experience seizures, convulsions, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia, abdominal pain and muscle spasms. Several schools in southeastern, central and northern Texas have cancelled classes in response to local southern flannel moth scares.
Have you ever spotted a southern flannel moth within a human-populated area?