A Caterpillar With Vomit-Inducing Poison Fur Is Taking Over Virginia

A Caterpillar With Vomit-Inducing Poison Fur Is Taking Over Virginia
A puss caterpillar, which you should absolutely not pet. (Photo: Virginia Department of Forestry)

The West Coast is dealing with murder hornets entering a “slaughter phase.” Now the East Coast is getting in on the bad bug action, too, as furry poisonous caterpillars that can make people vomit and feel like they’re going into shock spread across Virginia. More like United States of Ahhh Get These Horror Show Bugs Outa Here, amirite? (It’s Friday, I’m tired. Let me have this.)

Virginia’s Department of Forestry has received reports of puss caterpillars putzing around the state. The caterpillars are about an inch and a half long and look like the result of if a shag rug and a clam shell mated. As a bald person, I would absolutely kill to have the caterpillar’s luscious locks. As a person who values not vomiting while in the fetal position, there’s no way in hell I’m going near that thing.

Puss caterpillars’ fuzz hides spines filled with poison. It’s the most poisonous caterpillar found in the U.S., and its sting can cause nausea, vomiting, swelling and itching, and feelings of anxiety. Not pleasant, to say the least. In recent weeks, Virginia residents have unfortunately had a chance to experience this. A woman in the Richmond area touched one and said it felt like a “scorching-hot knife passing through the outside of my calf.” She was admitted to the emergency room to treat the sting. This is Virginia’s second outbreak of weird bugs this year. Cicadas overran the state this summer, buzzing up a storm.

But the cicadas were expected; the bugs emerge every two decades like clockwork. The puss caterpillar’s appearance in Virginia, though, is surprising. While their range runs as far north as New Jersey, they mostly hang in the South and parts of Texas. But Virginia has had a wet and warm summer, which could be driving the uptick in caterpillar sightings. Climate change is, of course, a factor in hotter-than-normal conditions and is causing more heavy downpours, though Virginia has no discernible overall trend in summer precipitation.

“With changes in our climate, we’re seeing some insects change their population,” Theresa Dellinger, a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech, told CNN. “But it’s too soon to tell. Caterpillars, moths, and butterflies all have cyclical periods, it’s all about the right time, and the right conditions.”

So even if they pose a painful threat to those who they encounter, at least puss caterpillars aren’t the latest sign of the climate apocalypse or invasive species running amok. Which is nice since my finite pool of worry has run about dry at this point.