Virginia officials have warned residents of an outbreak after sightings of the most venomous caterpillar in the United States crawled across the state.
The insect known as a puss caterpillar, is covered in poisonous spines that cause intense pain when touch, accompanied by swelling, fever, and symptoms of shock.
These hairy caterpillars live in the southern states and eat shade trees such as elms, oaks and sycamores. However, the locals have noticed them hanging around parks and buildings.
Reports of the puss surfaced in the state’s eastern counties, along with injuries that sent some to the emergency room.
Officials note that the venomous caterpillar population is controlled by natural predators, but chemical insecticides will be used when needed.
The puss is the small, harmless larva of the southern flannel moth, but before spreading its wings it is deemed a danger to the public.
The insects can grow from 1.2 inches to 1.4 inches, and their bodies are completely hidden by a thick layer of hair but they bring their heads out in search of food.
The Virginia Forest Department has received numerous reports of caterpillars in several eastern counties but has not provided an exact location.
Spindel Gaston, a resident of Richmond, told The Daily Progress about his encounter with the caterpillar.
Eric Day, director of Virginia Tech’s Insect Identification Laboratory, said the caterpillar was uncommon in the state because staff had only one or two observations, but it looks like this year is an outbreak year.
Officials warned parents to keep an eye on their kids as the caterpillar appeared to have soft hair and children might want to pet them.
In 1923, two schools in Texas were temporarily closed after multiple reports of the puss caterpillars stinging children.