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Asp caterpillars in Houston: What to know about the stinging bugs – Houston Chronicle

Over the last three years, the asp caterpillar population on the netted live oaks at the Texas Medical Center has increased by more than 7,000 percent, according to a recent study from Rice researchers.
Despite their harmless-looking appearance, asp caterpillars, or Megalopyge opercularis, are considered North America’s most venomous caterpillar species, according to the study. Common in the Houston area, the fuzzy-looking asps are covered with hundreds of spiky needles that upon touching can cause severe allergic reactions, paralysis and sometimes, even death.
Every late spring and summer, swarms of unwelcome visitors make themselves known across Houston: the asp caterpillar.
At first look, these fuzzy-looking creatures almost look friendly — but Houstonians should keep their distance. Here’s everything to know about the stinging asp caterpillars being spotted around Houston. 
Asp or puss caterpillars, more formally known as the Texas southern flannel moth Megalopyge opercularis, emerge in the late spring and summer months to lay eggs on trees and heavily wooded areas. They can be found in shaded trees, shrubbery and wooded areas located around homes, schools and parks, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
Asps typically lay their eggs on oaks, pecan, elm, hackberry and other trees. The bugs tend to hide in plain sight, so it’s easy to get accidentally pricked. 
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These insects are usually one-inch in length, tear-dropped shaped and range in light colors like beige, tan, grey, reddish-brown and orange. Their seemingly fuzzy appearance is an illusion. Instead of a soft exterior, they are covered in long, hair-like spines that can cause a painful prick.
Over the last three years, the asp caterpillar population on the netted live oaks at the Texas Medical Center has increased by more than 7,000 percent, according to a recent study from Rice researchers.
Asps may look like a funny bug your kid will want to pick up, but it’s best to leave them alone. One tiny prick can cause severe pain, especially for children, that could potentially lead to an emergency room visit. Once touched, the spines release a venom that can cause mild to severe allergic reactions, including major swelling, numbing and intense burning. 
Intense throbbing pain can also develop and sometimes lead to pain in the armpit region, blood-colored spots at the site of the sting, headaches, nausea, vomiting, shock or respiratory stress, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. 
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For mild reactions, remove the spines by using a piece of adhesive tape placed over the sting, wash the area and apply an ice pack. An oral antihistamine can also be used to help relieve itching. 
Watch for severe allergic reactions or pain that persists longer than an hour. If needed, get to an emergency room as soon as possible. 
rebecca.hennes@chron.com
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Rebecca Hennes is the metro web producer for the Houston Chronicle. 
A Houston native, Rebecca graduated from the University of Houston Honors College in 2016 with a bachelor’s in print journalism and later joined the Chronicle in 2018. 
When she is not writing about dogs or animal welfare, she covers anything Houston-related, including crime, entertainment, education and politics. She can be reached by email at Rebecca.Hennes@chron.com or by Twitter: @beccaghennes
 
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