Brace yourselves for this one: puss caterpillars are infiltrating the United States. Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Forestry shared an image of the venomous caterpillars to its social media channels, warning followers the pests have started to pop up in the eastern portion of the state. The most startling part of it all, the puss caterpillar doesn't necessarily look super venomous — rather, it looks like a toupee that crawls along the ground.
According to the VDOF, hidden underneath the caterpillar's "hair" are venomous spines that can cause a painful reaction if touched by those curious to inspect it.
"The caterpillars eat oak and elm leaves, but they can be found in parks or near structures," the Department of Forestry shared in a Facebook page. "If you find the caterpillar, leave it alone and let its natural enemies control their populations—there are a number of other insects that will prey on them at different stages of their life cycle."
According to the University of Florida, the puss caterpillar is one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States. As it turns out, even the slightest touch can send someone to the hospital, a reaction that varies depending on case. Earlier this fall, Virginia resident Crystal Spindel Gaston said she had to rush herself to the emergency room after accidentally brushing by one with her leg.
As Gaston told The Daily Progress, she felt as if she was stabbed with a "scorching-hot knife."
“Before I looked down to see where it came from, I thought 100% I was going to see a big piece of metal, super sharp, sticking out from my car," Gaston told the paper. “That’s when my brain really flipped out, because I just didn’t know what I was looking at. I knew it was probably an animal or a hive or a cocoon or something, but it was no shape of any animal I had ever seen. It was a cross between like a mouse and a slug.”
Other known symptoms of a puss caterpillar sting include severe pain and in more severe cases, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Should you come in contact with one, medical professional recommended washing the contact area with soap and water, being sure to remove any of the caterpillar's spines that may have dislodged from the insect.