Summary: Caterpillars are a common sight in many gardens and yards during the warmer months and these can have a destructive impact on your well tended greenery. There are many typical varieties including white caterpillars and green clover worm although an unusual looking species to be sure is the puss caterpillar.
by Ian Farquharson
Puss caterpillars are fairly easy to recognize, being around an inch long and looking furry in appearance. The color of this hairy caterpillar can vary from whitish gray, through tan to a darker charcoal gray. Their furry appearance makes them look quite appealing, encouraging many people to pick them up. Unfortunately in this case looks are most definitely deceiving as they are a poisonous caterpillar and the fur contains short venomous spines that will result in a reaction when they come in contact with skin. So don't touch!
The puss caterpillar range extends from south eastern to south central USA and also down into Central America. Its habitat is generally woodland and surrounding areas. They tend to live on trees such as oak, citrus and elms but can also be found on common garden plants such as ivy or roses and left to their own devices can eat their way through this kind of plant life.
These garden and yard insects are an early stage in the life cycle of the flannel moth. They make a cocoon by detaching themselves from their furry skin and the moth that emerges also has a hairy appearance, sporting a color of dull orange to yellow with furry legs and black hairy feet.
The main problem with the puss caterpillar is if they come into contact with you. Their appearance is attractive and this makes people, especially children, want to stroke them. Their poisonous nature however can cause an extremely painful skin reaction if you touch one and this can be localized to the point of contact. However in more severe cases the pain can radiate out from this causing a burning sensation, swelling and blisters so it pays to avoid touching them.
In severe cases medical attention should really be sought as the best way to relieve the symptoms. However for most cases the best way to deal with it is to try and remove the poisonous spines quickly and the simplest way to do this is with sticky tape. Other remedies which you can try include, among others, antihistamines, ice packs and calamine lotion. These should help to relieve the symptoms of a puss caterpillar sting.
So how do we deal with these little furry beasts? Well the first rule if you see one or more is don't touch and if an infestation occurs cordon the area off and warn people to stay out. Pesticides are generally not recommended for dealing with puss caterpillars partly because of the impact on the environment and other more friendly insects and partly that it can cause a worse infestation at a later stage. Biological pest control is more appropriate and there are a few brands such as Thuricide which have been shown to be effective and have less impact on the surrounding environment. Before using these always be sure to read the label and use the product in accordance with the instructions.
If only a few caterpillars are evident removing these manually with a thick gloved hand or tongs usually proves effective. They can be disposed of in soapy water using a little detergent. Using natural remedies for a few caterpillars is also effective and some oils such as cedar and rosemary if applied to the little beast using a squeeze bottle can work well.
Whatever method you use it pays to deal with puss caterpillars, as anyone who has been stung by one will testify that it is an extremely unpleasant experience and one that should be avoided. So glove up and make sure you are not the one to suffer.