If you live in the Sunshine State, beware: the puss caterpillar has made its seasonal return in Florida. And while this fuzzy creature may look friendly, experts are warning people to stay away.
Residents in Florida’s Bay Area have reportedly spotted puss caterpillars, Fox 13 reported.
One Spring Hill man claims he recently was stung by a puss caterpillar, while a couple in Riverview told the news station they spotted at least three of the insects behind their home.
Though they may look soft, this caterpillar’s fluffy-looking “hair” actually hides small, sharp spines that “stick in your skin,” according to a 2014 National Geographic report, which noted these creatures are the "most venomous caterpillars in the U.S."
“A puss caterpillar sting feels like a bee sting, only worse. The pain immediately and rapidly gets worse after being stung, and can even make your bones hurt,” Don Hall, an entomologist at the University of Florida, told the publication at the time.
"It's definitely incapacitating," agreed Michael Dusk, the Spring Hill resident who was recently stung. "It feels extremely painful."
A puss caterpillar sting does not necessarily require a trip to the emergency room, but The Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa warns those who have a history of hay fever, asthma or allergy or develop an allergic reaction to the sting should “contact a physician immediately.”
Floridians who have been stung can also call the Florida Poison Control Center, which will “tell you things to do to relieve a lot of the pain,” Alfred Aleguas, the director of the center in Tampa Bay, said.
One way to decrease pain is by removing the caterpillar’s venom-filled spines, which those stung can do by covering the affected area with tape and then peeling it off.
“Apply ice packs to reduce the stinging sensation, and follow with a paste of baking soda and water,” The Florida Poison Information Center added.
While there are two generations of puss caterpillars each year — one in the spring and another in the fall, according to the poison information center — these creatures spend the winter in cocoons, Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension reported.
If you spot a puss caterpillar, which can be found on oak and citrus trees, keep your distance.
"Great to look at, [but] don't touch them," Aleguas added.