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The Venomous Caterpillar Scare That Gripped Students And Staff At Loyola And Tulane Universities

Caterpillars are not traditionally considered dangerous animals, but numerous incidents involving harmful caterpillar evenomations in the south have prompted much concern over the larval insects. Last year, an incident involving the hospitalization of a Florida teenager over a caterpillar sting made national news. As a result of all the media attention concerning this, and other well publicized encounters with dangerous caterpillars, more and more people are beginning to fear the baby insects. Also last year, public health officials in a coastal North Carolina town warned residents about the medical threat posed by a caterpillar species often found in urban and residential areas in the south. The caterpillar species causing all the fuss is commonly referred to as a “puss moth caterpillar,” or a “southern flannel moth caterpillar,” and this species is considered the most dangerous caterpillar in the United States. Unfortunately, the southern flannel moth caterpillar is abundant in Louisiana, and they are often found within residential yards and urban parks. As it happens, this dangerous caterpillar species once caused a public scare on college campuses in New Orleans.

Back in 2014, officials with Loyola and Tulane Universities warned students about the risk of making contact with puss caterpillars. Professors, entomologists and public health professionals at the Universities took part in public service announcements that aimed to educate students and staff on how to avoid making contact with the caterpillars. The southern flannel moth caterpillar was, and still is a common sight on the two campuses. Most people get stung after accidentally sitting, or leaning on a caterpillar, and once the insect’s protruding spines detach and remain lodged in human skin, venom continues to enter the bloodstream. A warning released by Tulane officials stated that systemic symptoms can take effect in as little as five minutes following exposure to the southern flannel moth caterpillar’s venom. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting and intense abdominal distress. After the warnings were issued, professors and students from both universities began to report southern flannel moth sightings on campus benches, sidewalks and the walls of buildings. No envenomations were reported at either university following the announcement, but southern flannel moths send numerous residents of Louisiana to the emergency room every year.

Have you ever spotted a fluffy white caterpillar that resembled a cotton ball?

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