Forestry officials warn to 'social distance' from hairy-looking caterpillars

Attention Virginia residents! Watch out for the fluffy and hairy looking caterpillar that has crawled around the eastern part of the state.
The puss in boots, which transforms into the southern flannel moth in adulthood, may resemble a tiny toupee, but is actually one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States' Department of Entomology and according to a profile by Donald W. Hall, professor emeritus at the university Nematology in Florida.
The Virginia Department of Forestry received reports of the recent sightings and issued a warning Tuesday with a photo of one of the caterpillars. The department told the Virgins in a Facebook post: “#SocialDistance away from this caterpillar!
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“The 'hairs' of these caterpillars are actually poisonous spines that cause a painful reaction when touched. The caterpillars will eat oak and elm leaves, but they can be found in parks or near structures. "
In the spines of the caterpillar there is a poison gland at the base. A person who has been stung may experience burning pain, which is followed by a red pattern on the skin, similar to the arrangement of poisonous spines on the caterpillar. Hall also wrote that in addition to localized symptoms, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and low blood pressure can occur, depending on the severity of the sting. If you are stung, experts recommend calling your doctor and using duct tape to remove broken spikes from your skin.
In its post, the Virginia Department of Forestry advises, "If you do find the caterpillar, leave it alone and let its natural predators control its populations. There are a number of other insects that hunt them at various stages in their life cycle." ”
The male caterpillars vary in size from 1.2 to 1.4 inches and are typically found in southern states such as Virginia, but are most common in Arkansas, Florida, and Texas.
Dr. Tim Kring, director of entomology at Virginia Tech TODAY said that while Virginia is in the northern range of common occurrences, it is "not uncommonly abundant" this year.
"As with all insects, you have a year where there is more one year and less the next," he said. "We may be in a little more (year), but it is certainly not an unusual year for us."
Why have Virginians come across these caterpillars more often in recent months?
"In the fall, they are preparing to turn into moths and they will fall to the ground and pupate," explained Dr. Kring. "And then you would probably see them. It's called the traveling stage on which they prepare to transform into the moth."
Ren Oliver came across a caterpillar in Tappahannock, Virginia last month. (Courtesy Ren Oliver)
Ren Oliver, 38, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, had a near-brush with one of the caterpillars on September 2 while she was enjoying a family dinner outside.
"We sat out on the deck and had dinner in Tappahannock, Virginia," Oliver said via email TODAY. "My 5 year old son saw it and said," Don't touch it! It's probably poisonous! "
Oliver continued, "I've since heard from two people who were stung by them and heard that it was unbearable. Thankfully we escaped it, but it looked the wildest and was so appropriate for 2020."
While this species is non-invasive and does not target people, it is best not to interact with it if you encounter a caterpillar while exploring outdoors.
"I would say leave her alone," said Dr. Kring. "They are not considered a pest for plants, so there is no need to kill them." They don't prefer to be around people. Once they find this place (to pupate) you won't see them anymore. "

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