Most caterpillars are unassuming—even cute, but that’s not true of the unappealingly named puss caterpillar, a hairy caterpillar with venomous spines that can cause a painful reaction if touched. The puss caterpillar is considered to be one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States, and it has recently been spotted multiple times in eastern Virginia.
While the puss caterpillar may look fluffy and soft, touching the “hair” of the caterpillar can feel like touching a red-hot knife. “It’s not going to reach out and bite you,” Theresa Dellinger, a diagnostician at the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech, told CNN. “But if someone brushes up against that hair, it’ll release toxins that you’ll have a reaction to.”
That reaction may include developing an itchy rash, vomiting, swollen glands and fever, CNN says.
The puss caterpillar eats oak and elm leaves, the Virginia Department of Forestry explained on their Facebook page, but they can be found in parks or near structures.
The puss caterpillar usually lives farther west, in states like Missouri or Texas, and no one is quite sure why the spiky little critter has popped up in Virginia. “With change in our climate, we’re seeing some insects change their population,” Dellinger told CNN.
If you spot a puss caterpillar, your best move is to keep your distance and leave it alone. There are a number of insects that feed on the hairy caterpillar, so its natural predictors are expected to keep their numbers in check.
Photo of the Puss Caterpillar – GETTY IMAGES