Puss moth caterpillars poison students

Robert Marchini, Staff Reporter

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Three students have been treated for injured by poisonous caterpillars on campus in the past two weeks, Tulane University Police Department reported.

The puss moth caterpillar, also known as the asp caterpillar, is approximately one-inch long and covered in what appears to be fur or hair, actually made of venomous spines that will cause immediate pain and swelling if touched. The Center for Wellness and Health Promotion posted a warning on its Facebook page about the caterpillars, describing them as “one of the most toxic caterpillars in North America.”

While the caterpillars can be found in North America from New York to Mexico, they are most commonly found in Texas and Florida. Deanie Stoulig, nursing manager at the Student Health Center, said Tulane started taking action more than five years ago after a student was injured by one.

“We found out these were on campus when a student came in injured and had taken a picture of it with her cell phone,” Stoulig said.

Students often are unaware of the danger the caterpillar poses, if they see the caterpillar at all.

Freshman Angelica Nahalka, who is a copy editor for The Hullabaloo, was stung Oct. 14 outside of Jones Hall.

“I think people just have to be aware if they are sitting down anywhere outside or especially under a tree,” Nahalka said. 

The caterpillar is tan to brown in color and shaped like a teardrop, which makes it hard to see. Stoulig said the amount of contact with the caterpillar’s spines determines how much venom one’s skin absorbs.

“If you just brushed it, that’s one thing, but if you put your arm back on a bench and a caterpillar is there and you crush it, you’ll get a large dose of the venom,” Stoulig said.

Stoulig said that the pain often scares students because they are unfamiliar with how a sting progresses, and the pain is often severe and cramping.

“Even if it’s just a small dose of the venom, the pain travels,” Stoulig said. “If you’re bitten on the arm you can have pain into your armpit, or if you’re bitten on the leg you can have pain in your groin or abdomen.”

Nahalka was stung on her leg when she accidentally sat down on the caterpillar.

“Right where it stung me it hurt a lot,” Nahalka said. “I thought I had sat on a bur or something because that is what it looked like. The spot itself burned, and the inside of my leg started tensing up and hurt a lot. I couldn’t really walk.” 

She then started to experience nausea, her vision started to blur and Tulane Emergency Medical Services was called.

Stoulig said that while there is first aid treatment for the bites such as icing the bite and taking an antihistamine, students should call the Student Health Center or TEMS to be checked by a medical professional, particularly if the pain is severe, if someone is having an allergic reaction or if someone is having trouble breathing. In minor cases, the pain usually subsides quickly.

“For smaller doses, the pain usually subsides within an hour and the rash goes away in a day or so,” Stoulig said. “For a larger dose, the symptoms could last up to five days.”