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Brief Summary

    Megalopyge opercularis: Brief Summary
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    Megalopyge opercularis is a moth of the family Megalopygidae. It has numerous common names, including southern flannel moth for its adult form, and puss caterpillar, asp, Italian asp, woolly slug, opossum bug, puss moth, tree asp, or asp caterpillar for its larval form.

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    Brief Summary
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    The caterpillar of the puss moth, Megalopyge opercularis, also commonly known as the asp caterpillar, is one of the most toxic caterpillars in North America. It is endemic to the southwestern United States and Central America, where it is common, and often found on shade trees such as oaks, elms, maple and citrus, or on small bushes. The 2.5-4 cm long caterpillar is covered with silky yellow, grey, red, or mixed color hairs (setae). Although the caterpillar’s appearance is soft and almost like a small furry cat (possibly inspiring its common name, puss caterpillar) its thick setae hide ridges of short, hollow spines connected to poison glands. When touched, these spines penetrate the skin, injecting poison which causes intense pain, nausea, vomiting, headache and sometimes respiratory distress and stings may require medical attention. Recent molts may also cause a sting. Instead of the usual five prolegs of most caterpillars, those within the flannel moth family (Megalopygidae) have seven. The adult moth, called the Southern flannel moth, is also unusually fuzzy in appearance, with and orange thorax and orange at the base of its blunt yellow wings, a 2.5-4 cm wingspan, and little black furry feet.

    (Lyon; Eagleman 2008; Hall 2013; Hyche 1998; Wikipedia 2011)

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Comprehensive Description

    Megalopyge opercularis
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    Megalopyge opercularis is a moth of the family Megalopygidae. It has numerous common names, including southern flannel moth for its adult form, and puss caterpillar, asp, Italian asp, woolly slug, opossum bug,[3] puss moth, tree asp, or asp caterpillar for its larval form.

    Description

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    A M. opercularis caterpillar on Kent Island, Maryland.
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    Cocoon

    The inch-long larva is generously coated in long, luxuriant hair-like setae, making it resemble a tiny Persian cat, the characteristic that presumably gave it the name "puss". It is variable in color, from downy grayish white to golden brown to dark charcoal gray. It often has a streak of bright orange running longitudinally. The "fur" on early-stage larvae is sometimes extremely curly, giving the larva a cottony, puffed-up look. The body tapers to a tail that extends well beyond the body, unlike its relative M. crispata.[4] The middle instar has a more disheveled, "bad-hair-day" appearance, without a distinctive tail. The "fur" of the larva contains venomous spines that cause extremely painful reactions in human skin upon contact. The adult moth is covered in long fur in colors ranging from dull orange to lemon yellow, with hairy legs and fuzzy black feet.

    Habitat

    Megalopyge opercularis can be found on oaks, elms, wild plum among others, as well as many garden plants such as roses and ivy. It is distributed throughout the eastern United States between extreme southeastern Virginia and Florida, the southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America.[5]

    Dangers and treatment of stings

    The caterpillar is regarded as a dangerous insect because of its venomous spines. Exposure to the caterpillar's fur-like spines will lead to an immediate skin irritation characterised by a, "grid-like hemorrhagic papular eruption with severe radiating pain". The pain has been described by patients as similar to a broken bone or blunt force trauma.[3] The reactions are sometimes localized to the affected area but are often very severe, radiating up a limb and causing burning, swelling, nausea, headache, abdominal distress, rashes, blisters, and sometimes chest pain, numbness, or difficulty breathing.[6][7] Additionally, it is not unusual to find sweating from the welts or hives at the site of the sting.

    Medical advice may be sought in case of contact with one. It is best if the venom from the spines is treated within hours of first contact. For first aid, it is recommended that the spines (if present) be removed by using cellophane tape.[6] Some remedies, which are reported to have varying degrees of success, include ice packs, oral antihistamine, baking soda, hydrocortisone cream, juice from the stems of comfrey plants, or calamine lotion.[6]

    References

    1. ^ Smith, James Edward (1797). "Tab. LIII. Phalæna opercularis". The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia. Including their systematic characters, the particulars of their several metamorphoses, and the plants on which they feed. Collected from the observation of Mr. John Abbot, many years resident in that country. 2. London: T. Bensley. pp. 105–106..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
    2. ^ Simmons, Alvin M.; Wiseman, B. R. (1993). "James Edward Smith - Taxonomic Author of the Fall Armyworm". The Florida Entomologist. 76 (2): 275. JSTOR 3495726.
    3. ^ a b Hossler, Eric W. (2009). "Caterpillars and moths". Dermatologic Therapy. 22 (4): 353–366. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2009.01247.x. PMID 19580579.
    4. ^ Wagner, David L. (2005). "Flannel Moths – Megalopygidae". Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton Univ. Press. p. 55.
    5. ^ McGovern, John P.; Barkin, Gilbert D.; McElhenney, Thomas R.; Wende, Reubin (1961). "Megalopyge opercularis: Observations of Its Life History, Natural History of Its Sting in Man, and Report of an Epidemic". JAMA. 175 (13): 1155–1158. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.03040130039009.
    6. ^ a b c Eagleman, David M. (2007). "Envenomation by the asp caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)". Clinical Toxicology. 46 (3): 201–205. doi:10.1080/15563650701227729. PMID 18344102.
    7. ^ Demkovich, Laurel (June 20, 2018). "'BE AWARE': Pasco mom posts to Facebook after son's caterpillar sting leads to ER trip". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2018-06-21.

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Associations

    Confusion surrounding the "Donald Trump" caterpillar
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    Megalopyge opercularis occurs only in North and Central America, however in 2013 a megalopygid caterpillar filmed in Amazonian Peru by wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer and conservation biologist Phil Torres was erroneously identified as M. opercularis.Because the Peruvian caterpillar bore resemblance to Donald Trump's hairpiece, news media picked up the story and confusion ciruclates that the common name of M. opercularis is the "Donald Trump" caterpillar.Like M. opercularis, the unidentified caterpillar is in family Megalopygidae, and bears venomous spines that can inflict pain on humans or other animals that brush them, but it is a different species, and perhaps different genus of megalopgid caterpillar.

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