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Explained: What are ‘murder hornets’ and ‘furry puss caterpillars’, the insects terrorising cities across US

Climate change has a significant role to play in the sudden appearance and subsequent rise in population of several different insects over the last decade.


Months after the Asian giant hornet — a vicious predatory insect popularly dubbed the ‘murder hornet’ — was first spotted in the US state of Washington, health officials in Virginia are now warning residents to watch out for another dangerous critter — the highly venomous furry puss caterpillar.
This week, the Virginia Department of Forestry sounded an alarm after it received multiple reports of the hairy-looking insect in the eastern part of the state. Several Virginia residents have said that were stung by the dangerous critter in recent days, which is unusual since this type of caterpillar is usually found in southern US states like Texas and Missouri.
Meanwhile, the state of Washington has been grappling with its own bug infestation. Ever since the first murder hornet was spotted in the state late last year, these insects have destroyed entire beehives and decapitated tens of thousands of bees, threatening crops that rely on pollination. These ferocious creatures have also been known to kill about 50 people in Japan every year, mostly as a result of allergic reactions.
Officials at the Washington State Department of Agriculture are now making desperate efforts to track down their nests and kill them before they enter their destructive ‘slaughter phase’.
But what are these insects and what has led to their sudden resurgence in the United States?
The furry puss caterpillar, named after the far less vicious house cat, is essentially a southern flannel moth in its larva stage. According to experts, after metamorphosis, the insect no longer poses a threat.
Closely resembling a wig or toupée, the caterpillar is widely regarded as one of the most poisonous of its kind in the United States. Touching or accidentally brushing against the hairy coat of these insects could cause a painful reaction and trigger symptoms such as fever, muscle cramps or swollen glands.
The bristly hair that coats it, hides small and toxic spines that can get lodged in a person’s skin and cause immediate and intensely burning pain. The severity of the sting depends on its location as well as how many spines get embedded in the skin. The caterpillar can also sometimes leave its victim with an itchy rash that appears in a red grid-like pattern.
A Virginia resident who was stung by the caterpillar last month, told The Daily Progress that it felt like being stabbed with a scorching-hot knife. The slug-like insects are known to fall from trees and get lodged in clothes, leading to multiple painful stings.



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