A venomous caterpillar inching across Florida has drawn the attention of scientists, who have warned people that the bug shouldn’t be touched.
The fat, furry caterpillar usually hangs out in trees throughout the state and is known as the “puss caterpillar”, or Megalopyge opercularis. Its fur is covered in venom, which University of Florida scientists have warned can administer intense pain after a single touch. UF scientists have also cautioned anyone working outdoors, since the caterpillars often fall out of the trees.
"We don't see any deaths from it, but it is very painful, judging by the number of people that just are out-of-control hysterical when they call," Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, the director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami, said.
The pain can be worse than a sting from a bee, jellyfish or scorpion. The venom can also cause vomiting and convulsions.
"It's the pain. It is instant and immediate and it's very intense," Dr. Glenn Hardesty, an emergency room physician, said of his personal experience.
In some cases, however, only minor itching occurred.
Hardesty noted that the caterpillars are more prevalent during this time of year, meaning the chance of encounter is higher. Because of this, reports of those getting stung have risen recently.
It’s especially important, the UF scientists stated, to remind children not to pick up the caterpillar despite its cute and fuzzy appearance.
The Center has suggested placing scotch tape over the affected area, then stripping off the tape repeatedly in order to remove the poison released by the spines. The Center also recommended applying ice packs to reduce the stinging, as well as a paste of baking soda and water.
The Center recommended that anyone experiencing intense or severe pain should seek medical help immediately.