Having kids is a full time job, as children are constantly putting themselves in hazardous situations. Making sure your child keeps small choking hazards out of his/her mouth alone requires near constant supervision, but when children are loose outdoors, any number of accidents can happen. For example, media outlets have been covering many medically harmful caterpillar encounters that have been occurring within backyards, school playgrounds, parks and other public areas all over the country. Unfortunately, the medical consequences of caterpillar stings are particularly perilous to children, and many species that are abundant in the northeast are being touched and picked up by curious children.
Children are more sensitive to arthropod envenomations than adults, but unlike other venomous insects, many caterpillar species possess fluffy exteriors that children find alluring. Naturally, children often make contact with these species when they are encountered outdoors, which usually results in emergency room visits. Puss moth caterpillars are responsible for the greatest number of medically significant stings to children in the US. The northeast is home to two puss moth caterpillar species, which are also referred to as “flannel-moth caterpillars.” The southern flannel moth is the most dangerous caterpillar species found in the US, and specimens are often found on lawns in the northeast. The second species found in the northeast, the black-waved flannel moth, is also considered a medically significant species, but the sting inflicted by this species is not as painful or dangerous as the southern variety.
The fluffy white appearance of these caterpillars gives people the impression that they must be harmless, but numerous venomous spines lie below this deceiving fluff-coat. The southern flannel moth’s sting produces a sensation that is often described as feeling like a limb has suddenly been amputation, and the spines protruding from its body become stuck in human skin, causing the pain to increase exponentially. Several children in the eastern US were rushed to hospitals after making contact with these species, and most incidents occurred on residential properties where the victims had been playing outside. A 7 year-old boy recently fell victim to southern flannel moth envenomation after touching a specimen within his backyard garden.
Have you ever encountered a flannel moth caterpillar?