(JE Smith, 1797)
Megalopyge opercularis is a moth of the family Megalopygidae. It has numerous common names, including southern flannel moth for its adult form, and puss caterpillar, asp, Italian asp, woolly slug, opossum bug, puss moth, tree asp, or asp caterpillar.
The inch-long larva is generously coated in long, luxuriant hair-like setae, making it resemble a tiny Persian cat, the characteristic that presumably gave it the name "puss". It is variable in color, from downy grayish white to golden brown to dark charcoal gray. It often has a streak of bright orange running longitudinally. The "fur" on early-stage larvae is sometimes extremely curly, giving them a cottony, puffed-up look. The body tapers to a tail that extends well beyond the body, unlike its relative M. crispata. The middle instar has a more disheveled, "bad-hair-day" appearance, without a distinctive tail. The "fur" of the larva contains venomous spines that cause extremely painful reactions in human skin upon contact. The adult moth is covered in long fur in colors ranging from dull orange to lemon yellow, with hairy legs and fuzzy black feet.
M. opercularis can be found on oak, elm, and wild plum, among others, as well as many garden plants such as roses and ivy. It is distributed throughout the Eastern United States between extreme southeastern Virginia and Florida, the southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America.
Dangers and treatment of stings
The caterpillar is regarded as a dangerous insect because of its venomous spines. Exposure to the caterpillar's fur-like spines leads to an immediate skin irritation characterized by a "grid-like hemorrhagic papular eruption with severe radiating pain." Victims describe the pain as similar to a broken bone or blunt-force trauma, or even white hot. The reactions are sometimes localized to the affected area, but are often very severe, radiating up a limb and causing burning, swelling, nausea, headache, abdominal distress, rashes, blisters, and sometimes chest pain, numbness, or difficulty breathing. Sweating from the welts or hives at the site of the sting is not unusual.
The venom from the spines is best treated within hours of first contact. For first aid, the spines (if present) should be removed by using cellophane tape. Some remedies, which are reported to have varying degrees of success, include ice packs, oral antihistamine, baking soda, hydrocortisone cream, juice from the stems of comfrey plants, and calamine lotion.
- Smith, James Edward (1797). "Tab. LIII. Phalæna opercularis". The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia. Including their systematic characters, the particulars of their several metamorphoses, and the plants on which they feed. Collected from the observation of Mr. John Abbot, many years resident in that country. 2. London: T. Bensley. pp. 105–106.
- Simmons, Alvin M.; Wiseman, B. R. (1993). "James Edward Smith - Taxonomic Author of the Fall Armyworm". The Florida Entomologist. 76 (2): 275. JSTOR 3495726.
- Hossler, Eric W. (2009). "Caterpillars and moths". Dermatologic Therapy. 22 (4): 353–366. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2009.01247.x. PMID 19580579.
- Wagner, David L. (2005). "Flannel Moths – Megalopygidae". Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton Univ. Press. p. 55.
- McGovern, John P.; Barkin, Gilbert D.; McElhenney, Thomas R.; Wende, Reubin (1961). "Megalopyge opercularis: Observations of Its Life History, Natural History of Its Sting in Man, and Report of an Epidemic". JAMA. 175 (13): 1155–1158. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.03040130039009.
- Eagleman, David M. (2007). "Envenomation by the asp caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)". Clinical Toxicology. 46 (3): 201–205. doi:10.1080/15563650701227729. PMID 18344102.
- Demkovich, Laurel (June 20, 2018). "'BE AWARE': Pasco mom posts to Facebook after son's caterpillar sting leads to ER trip". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
- Data related to Megalopyge opercularis at Wikispecies
- Media related to Megalopyge opercularis at Wikimedia Commons
- Research on the Asp Caterpillar at Baylor College of Medicine
- Info page with photos
- BugGuide account
- Megalopyge opercularis on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures website.
- Aylin Woodward, Caroline Praderio: Poisonous Caterpillars That Look Like Bad Wigs Are Popping Up All Over Virginia; on: sciencealert; 10 October 2020; source: Business Insider.