This year (2013), southern flannel moth populations in Northern Virginia are larger than is typical resulting in more reports of stings. What to do if you are stung? Jerry Cates of Bugs In The News discusses options and evidence. When pressure is placed on the caterpillars, tiny, venom-containing hollow spines penetrate the skin. The venom leaks from the hollow center of the spine under the skin. In numerous cases, spines have been successfully removed by gently pressing clear adhesive tape (Scotch brand magic mending tape, duct tape and medical bandage tape are all reported to work) onto the sting site. The spines stick to the tape and are pulled out of the skin when the tape is removed. This process is repeated several times to remove the majority of the spines and the venom remaining within them. The tape does nothing for venom that is already under the skin which may take time for the body to degrade.
A sting victim who went to an emergency room reported her experience:
It was like nothing I ever experienced … it was excruciating, it did not let up at all, so the whole time I was in the emergency room I felt like I was being stung. …Every minute that went by, I felt worse and worse… It felt a lot better almost immediately when I used the tape….I hope it goes away,” she said. “It’s still painful to touch.
The moths and caterpillars are both beautiful creatures, aesthetically pleasing from a safe distance. The caterpillars are definitely “look but don’t touch”. Jonathan Wojcik has a video on YouTube: