Living in oak and citrus trees this spring, puss caterpillars pack painful, poisonous punch

Look fuzzy & cute, they will send you to hospital
Posted at 3:10 AM, May 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-17 09:53:56-04

"It was the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard."

Her 5-year-old son, Tucker, had been playing outside, under the oak trees in their Plant City yard. Now, a nightmare.

He was in pain. His foot felt like it was on fire. Ants, she thought. Maybe a plant.

"I thought it was fire ants mixed with a snake," says Tucker.

Instead, what stung Tucker was a puss caterpillar, which invades the Tampa Bay area every fall and spring, dropping out of oak and citrus trees. The caterpillar is the larva stage of the southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis).

They look cute and cuddly, but underneath their layer of fuzz and fur? Poisonous spines.

Staggs rushed her son to the hospital, but not all puss caterpillar "bites" result in allergic reaction. Poison Center Tampa recommends removing the spines with scotch tape, then applying ice packs and a mixture of baking soda and water.

If swelling and pain are extreme and persist, please see a physician.

So watch your step, Tampa Bay. As for Tucker, he knows just what to do if he ever sees another puss caterpillar: "I'll put 'em in a net and run 'em over with a truck."

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For more advice visit Poison Center Tampa's website at or call (800) 222-1222.