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Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Southern Flannel Moth

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Image Credit: Jayme R. from Abita Springs, LA
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Image Credit: Joel M., taken in Clermont, FL
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Image Credit: Tim, taken on the Appalachian Trail, PA
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Image Credit: Tim, taken in Kings Gap, PA
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Image Credit: Tim, taken in Kings Gap, PA
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Image Credit: Tim, taken in Kings Gap, PA
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Image Credit: Phil L. from Houston, TX
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Where there are fluffy Southern Flannel Moth adults, there will be their harmful, stinging, furry caterpillars.

Updated: 10/03/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
While adult Southern Flannel Moths are striking to behold, the larvae of this species is capable of delivering a sting so painful, some liken the sensation to a sudden amputation. The caterpillars are sometimes called Asp Caterpillars because contact with one feels like a snake bite. Extreme caution must be practiced in areas where these caterpillars may roam. Long, yellow hairs cover the entire body, giving it a soft, pet-able appearance. The resemblance to cat fur donned them the moniker 'Puss Caterpillar'. These stinging hairs carry toxic venom inside them. The older the caterpillar, the more potent its chemical defense is. Merely brushing past the hairs can cause them to break off and inject this venom. The hairs may even embed themselves in skin and need to be removed (using tape or tweezers, not fingers). Pain begins within minutes and increases exponentially, possibly spreading throughout the whole limb or affected area. Typically, redness and swelling develop at the wound. The sting is not lethal, but it causes extreme discomfort. Removing hairs, applying a cold compress, and taking pain medication as well as allergy medication are common courses of treatment. Medical attention can help quickly relieve pain in children, who are especially sensitive and most likely to have contact.

Caterpillars feed on the foliage of a variety of plants, including oak and elm trees. These trees are common in playgrounds, backyards, and parks. Children are at high risk of contact, so teaching them to identify and avoid this caterpillar is highly suggested. (Out of an abundance of caution, adults and children alike should not touch hairy caterpillars unless they know them to be safe to handle.) Two broods are produced each year. In the Deep South, Texas, and Mexico, three broods are produced. If adult moths are seen in an area, it should serve as an early warning to be on the lookout for the near arrival of stinging larvae.

Adult moths, however, do not sting. They are covered in thick hairs, almost like fur, or soft flannel. The yellow moth has large swaths of brown color on each forewing with white hairs covering them. Dark spots are scattered inside the brown areas. The bottoms of the forewings are pale. The thorax is inundated with orange hair. Legs are covered in yellow hairs as well and its feet are black. White antennae have black tips and are comb-like.

Natural parasites of the caterpillar include Tachinid Flies and some species of wasp. Once the caterpillar forms its cocoon, female wasps inject their own eggs inside it and the intruding larvae eat the caterpillar after hatching. Old cocoons are repurposed by spiders and other insects as shelters.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy insect icon
Insect stinger icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Megalopygidae
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          Genus: Megalopyge
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            Species: opercularis

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Megalopyge opercularis
Other Name(s): Puss Caterpillar, Asp Caterpillar
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 24mm to 36mm (0.94" to 1.41")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; orange; brown; white; black
Descriptors: furry; fluffy; fuzzy; hairy; painful; stinging; wave; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 24mm (0.9in) and 36mm (1.4in)
Lo: 24mm
Md: 30mm
Hi: 36mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Southern Flannel Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Southern Flannel Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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