Watch out for this venomous creature in Texas

Ash Jurberg
Image from WikiCommons images

At first sight, it looks like a wig. The hair looks like that of a Persian cat.

It certainly doesn't look dangerous. But looks can be very deceiving. The colorful creature pictured above is known as a southern flannel moth or an asp caterpillar, and the venom it contains in its spikes can leave people in hospital.

Experts warn people across Texas to be on the lookout for the southern flannel moth and avoid touching them if they come across one.

Coming into contact with the caterpillar's fur-like venomous spines will lead to immediate skin irritation, with victims likening the pain as similar to a broken bone or blunt-force trauma.

"Depending on what your allergy level is, you can have various different reactions, but at the minimum, it's pretty painful. You may not have a bad reaction or need to seek treatment. Some people can go into anaphylaxis or have hives." Molly Keck, Senior Program Specialist for the integrated pest management program for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

The caterpillars are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and will often infest shade trees and shrubbery around homes, schools, and parks. November is a typical time to find them.

How to treat an injury

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website, if you come into contact with the caterpillar, "an ice pack should be applied to the site of the sting, and oral antihistamines administered to help relieve the itching and burning sensations."

Interestingly it also recommended applying cellophane tape to the sting site and then removing the tape. This helps remove the irritating spines. Anyone who has an allergic reaction should see a doctor immediately.

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

If you see any in your garden, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension advises spraying the bugs with a residual pesticide such as permethrin, cyfluthrin or similar sprays labeled for control of caterpillars on ornamental plants.

Readers, have you ever seen one of these caterpillars before? Were you aware of how dangerous they actually are?

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San Antonio, TX

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