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Florida's Fuzzy Caterpillars Have a Painful Secret

Sep 05, 2014 06:31 PM EDT

It's just about that time of the year again, when Florida doctors and poison centers start warning residents about the "puss caterpillar," a particularly cute and fat caterpillar that's so fuzzy that you can't help wanting to pet it. But you absolutely must not do that, as anyone who tries is in for a painful surprise.

According to the Poison Center of Tampa, Florida, the puss caterpillar is a stout-bodied and can reach almost an inch long when nearly mature. It is covered in long gray and brown hairs that make it look like very strange and lively lump of fur. However, underneath this cuddly exterior are several cleverly hidden poison spines. The toxin that can be injected by these spines is said to be one of the most painful stings in the insect world, easily trumping your run-of-the-mill wasp or honeybee.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, the director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami told the Sun Sentinel  back in 2012 that he has even seen patients pass out from the pain.

"We don't see any deaths from it, but it is very painful, judging by the number of people that just are out-of-control hysterical when they call," he said.

And you might be too if an adorable looking crawly caused your finger to feel like someone was driving a nail through it.

According to the University of Florida's entomology department, the puss caterpillar appears twice a year, during early autumn and spring. Later, it matures into the seemingly feathered southern flannel moth - an insect that can't bother us nearly as much as its childhood sting.

Interestingly, not everyone has a severe reaction to the sting. For some, it just creates a burning and itching sensation and can easily be treated with a roll of scotch tape.

That's right, tape. The prolonged burning from the sting is caused by parts of the spine actually embedding themselves in a wound to exacerbate the pain. The Tampa poison center suggests that if you  remove the spines by repeatedly striping fresh tape off the wound, the sting can then be treated like a standard bee sting - using a cold compress and baking soda paste.

Still, if you have a history of allergic reaction to stings or suffer from asthma, it is recommended you contact a doctor right away.

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