Random Facts About … Little Things That Might Bite You This Summer

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By David Martin —

When we opened our internet tubes this week, a furry little piece of fluff came out that looked so cute we wanted to touch it — but a reader had warned us. Danger! The puss caterpillar might look like an inch-long piece of fur from a pussy cat but touching it will fill you with pain and regret.

Our correspondent reported she had been stung by one while cutting grass. “It felt as if a red-hot cast-iron pan was on my bare skin. The swelling, intense pain, and burning was severe for 24 hours. Slowly it subsided, but the bite lasted for about two weeks.”

The puss caterpillar is the larval form of the southern flannel moth. The caterpillar’s “fur” is actually venomous spines that make the little devil one of the most poisonous bugs in America. As tempting as it might be, if you see an inch-long fluffy caterpillar, don’t pick it up or allow children to touch it.

The adult flannel moth is also small (an inch to an inch and a half) and has a fluffy coating but it is not poisonous. If you see an adult moth, that probably means the dangerous little caterpillars are also present. The puss caterpillar’s poisonous hair-like spines can stick into the skin by simply brushing against you, and the venom those spines pump into you will be excruciating. It’s best to treat the puss attack immediately by getting the spines out of the skin, using tape, for example.

Here are some other bugs that will make you want to stay inside all summer:

Unlike a bee, which has a barbed stinger that sticks into you and renders the bee a one-shot attacker, yellow jackets’ stingers are not barbed and can stick you multiple times, injecting venom with each sting. Yellow jackets also have rage issues, especially in the fall when they begin starving to death. Typically, the entire colony of yellow jackets, except for a new queen, will die off in the cold weather.

Thank goodness black widow spiders are not aggressive like the yellow jacket, but the black widow’s venom is more powerful than that of a rattlesnake — so if you get bitten by a black widow, prepare for a major ouch that could be life-threatening.

The kissing bug’s bite is more gross than painful. It gets its name from the fact that it is attracted to the carbon dioxide in your breath and therefore tries to get close to your mouth where its bites are often located — as if it had been trying to kiss you. The gross part is that after the kissing bug bites you, it defecates. In that poop is a parasite that, if it enters your body through your mouth, eyes, or nose, can cause Chagas’ disease. The condition is relatively rare in the United States but, really, who wants to get something from being kissed-bitten by a bug that poops on your face?

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