5-year-old girl hospitalized after bite from poisonous caterpillar

Lauren Chambers’ 5-year-old daughter Adrie was playing outside near her daycare in Rockwall, Texas when she was bitten by what turned out to be a poisonous caterpillar. The mom received a terrifying phone call that her daughter was unable to move her arm after being stung.

Daycare workers did some research to realize that Adrie had been stung by a southern flannel moth caterpillar, otherwise known as a “furry puss” caterpillar for its resemblance to a fluffy pet. Despite their cute appearance, the caterpillars have a coat of venom-filled spines below their hair that cause intense stings.

Luckily, Adrie’s teachers removed the caterpillar from her arm with tape. But the little girl still suffered pain, burning, swelling and an upset stomach, and she was hospitalized. Chambers learned that if staff hadn’t acted so quickly, her child could have been in grave danger.

University of Florida

“They said if [removing the caterpillar] had not happened it could actually cause her whole body to go numb and start shutting down,” Chambers told NBC Dallas Forth Worth.

Southern flannel moss caterpillars have been reported more than usual in the area lately, and experts aren’t sure of the reason.

“They’re common on a lot of trees and plants we have in North Texas … on oaks, yaupons, even rose bushes,” explained  Michael Merchant, an entomologist with Texas A&M University.

Similar stings from these caterpillars have hospitalized children in North Carolina and Virginia and have been reported in other parts of the southeastern United States as well.

Andrea Pergola’s 15-year-old son Logan was stung while landscaping without wearing gloves in Florida. He was in a lot of pain and brought to the hospital, where he received Benadryl, prednisone and anti-nausea medicine via IV. His family was shocked by what happened.

“We are native Floridians — we are outside all the time, camping, outside in the woods,” Pergola told WFLA. “We had no idea this was out there. I would just hate for a small child to pick this up. Logan is healthy and weighs 100 pounds. I know this would hurt a small child even worse than my 15-year-old son.”

The caterpillars grow to about one-and-a-half inches in length and have a thick coating of hair, making them look cute and cuddly to children — belying their danger. According to the University of Florida, their population is normally controlled by natural enemies.

southern flannel moth caterpillar photo
Flickr | kellyv

According to University of Florida entomologist Don Hall, this species of caterpillars go through “boom and bust” cycles, where populations can rise dramatically at a given time.

How to treat a sting

If stung, you will likely feel a reaction right away, similar to being stung by a wasp or bee. You may experience redness and swelling that can last about 20 to 30 minutes. However, depending on where you get stung and how many spines become embedded in your skin, pain can last for up to 12 hours.

If you get stung, Hall suggested covering the area with cellophane tape and then ripping it off to remove the spines, which is how Adrie’s teachers helped her.

“Place Scotch tape over the affected area and strip off repeatedly to remove spines,” recommends the Florida Poison Information Center. “Apply ice packs to reduce the stinging sensation, and follow with a paste of baking soda and water. If the victim has a history of hay fever, asthma or allergy, or if allergic reactions develop, contact a physician immediately.”

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