Oct 122012
 
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This is a Puss Caterpillar, the larval stage of the Southern Flannel Moth. This caterpillar is also known as the Tree Asp or Asp Caterpillar. It is so named because of the vicious sting it is reported to give. The fur of this caterpillar contains numerous venom releasing spines that can cause severe reactions in people. Radiating pain and burning, nausea, swelling, rashes, blisters, and difficulty breathing have all been described by people who have been stung by these caterpillars. These critters look furry and sweet, but if you every come across one, please use extreme caution.

This was the first specimen of a Puss Caterpillar I had every encountered. I did not even know such a creature existed. My instincts served me well, though, and I avoided touching the caterpillar.

Instead, I put the caterpillar in an acrylic container along with some leaves from the holly plant I found him on, and placed the whole thing on the bookshelf in my study. The caterpillar fed voraciously, and quickly soiled the container.

Six days later, strands of silk in the enclosure indicated that the caterpillar was ready to pupate. The next day, October 26, the caterpillar was fully enclosed in a silken shroud.

On December 13, roughly 43 days later, an adult female Southern Flannel Moth emerged from the cocoon.

The newly emerged Flannel Moth.

The vacated cocoon.

Another look at the vacated cocoon.

The female moth is distinguishable from the male by its antennae. Male Southern Flannel Moths have plumose (feathery) antennae.

On December 14 the moth began laying eggs. She died eight days later after laying several hundred eggs.

It is not clear if the adult moth can be expected to deliver the same kind of sting as the caterpillar form. Maybe one of our readers can fill us in on this detail.

Observation Details

County - Denton
City - Carrollton
Date - Oct 19, 2008 – Dec 12, 2008
Time of Day - Various
Temperature - Warm (70-89°F/21-32°C)
Weather - Clear
Habitat - Residential-Single Family
Type of Behavior - Metamorphosis
Gender - Female
Maturity - Mixed
Observer - Chris Jackson
Main Article - Southern Flannel Moth Observation Location
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  6 Responses to “Southern Flannel Moth – Caterpillar to Moth”

  1. My dwarf yuopon holly (40 ft) I thought were dropping leaves from stress. However, they were infested with puss caterpillar. I found out the hard way. I had unknowly squashed one under my hand. It hurt unrelentingly for 12 plus hours. I have hit my hand with a hammer and it was never this bad. The pain was radiating up my arm.
    Thanks for your posting. I have been trying for days to figure out what they were. I sent a picture to A&M.

    • Wow! I’ve heard the stories. Its hard to believe something that will give a sting like this isn’t more generally known about. I’d wager most people have never even heard of these caterpillars!

  2. They not only occur on hollies, but also on Southern Sugarberry (locally called Hackberry) and elm, and can be extremely abundant.

    When I was in ninth grade at Long Jr. High I brushed my right hand through a hedge beside a walkway while delivering newspapers. A few minutes later my hand felt like it was on fire. It swelled to more than double its normal size, and the pain went up my arm into my armpit, which felt like it was burning. It also ached and throbbed. My hand continued to pain me severely.

    When I got finished delivering the newspapers I went home and went to bed. I was in the band, and was supposed to play that night at the football game. My mother wrapped my hand with warm oatmeal poultices and gave me aspirin. By early evening the swelling and pain had subsided, and I was able to go to the game and play my clarinet.

    I never want one of those on me again.

  3. What beautiful pictures! My four year old daughter had an encounter with one of these today. She thought it looked cold and held it in her hand to warm it up. Within a minute or so she began screaming hysterically. I wasn’t sure if it was four year old drama or if it really hurt. Her hand became very red and was hot to the touch. After some benadryl and snuggles with mommy she settled down. I had never heard of these before, but like you mentioned my instinct was not to touch it. I should have listened to my instinct and not allowed my daughter to hold it. Thank you for the information and beautiful pictures.

    • Well, that is terrible! So sorry that happened to your daughter! I have commented before that I think it is amazing that something that can produce such a painful sting is not more commonly known of in the area. Spread the word! We don’t want anyone else getting stung by these little devils!

      -Chris

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