Life in Virginia is usually pretty peaceful – but these days it’s pretty dangerous. A brown, hairy animal that no one had ever heard of has infiltrated people’s yards all over the state. The critter could be mistaken for a small cat or even an alien. But make no mistake about it, this mini-beast could cause you all kinds of trouble. In fact, an encounter with the venomous creature left one woman in the emergency room.
That woman is Crystal Spindel Gaston. While trying to get into her Prius one afternoon, Gaston felt a sharp pain engulf her leg. “It felt exactly like a scorching-hot knife passing through the outside of my calf,” she later told NBC 12. But when she first looked at her leg, nothing appeared to be wrong.
“I thought 100 percent I was going to see a big piece of metal, super sharp, sticking out from my car,” Gaston said. Instead, she saw a weird little clump of fur that looked like a stray mustache. Little did Gaston know, she had just had an encounter with a venomous animal.
Panicking, Gaston rushed to the emergency room. Her pain was increasing, and she was sure this mystery creature was the reason why. Understandably, she wanted to know how this furry little thing was capable of causing so much agony. But, as she found out, answers were hard to come by.
Before speeding to the ER, Gaston had taken pictures of the furry beast. But when she showed them to the medical staff, no one had a clue what her attacker was. Yet Gaston was one of many people across Virginia who had spotted these hairpiece-like bugs. And she wasn’t the only victim of their excruciating bite.
Gaston was taken aback by the whole ordeal, too. “My brain really flipped out,” Gaston said of the encounter. “I just didn’t know what I was looking at. I knew it was probably an animal or a hive or a cocoon or something, but it was no shape of any animal I had ever seen. It was a cross between like a mouse and a slug.” So just what was this thing?
“It’s almost a cruel trick of nature. They look like a plush toy, something soft, and they could be very alluring to a child,” Gaston said. Thankfully, though, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) had received other reports of creature sightings. And that’s why they advised the public to keep their distance.
After all, Gaston spent three days in pain that she felt down to her bones. And as an avid outdoorsman, she was pretty stunned that she’d never heard of or seen these predatory pests before. So clearly there had been a population bloom – and it was important to give others a warning.
On the VDOF Facebook page, the group quipped, “#SocialDistance away from this caterpillar!” Yes, amazing as it sounds, this creature really is a caterpillar. And the VDOF illustrated the risks of coming into contact with a puss caterpillar. So even though you might want a closer look at the little chestnut hairpiece insect, the warning is no joke.
This freaky little crawler takes the title of the most poisonous caterpillar in the United States. Hidden among those shaggy hairs that look so amusing are hollow spines chock full of venom. That’s right: not only does this beast sting, it poisons.
Symptoms set in as soon as you touch one of the venomous spines, too. First, there’s an intense pain that flares up in waves. Then the puncture swells – becoming red and itchy – and it doesn’t end there. The venom can spread throughout the entire body.
Some reactions can be more severe, too. Nausea and vomiting aren’t uncommon – nor are seizures. Gaston, of course, got the intense pain. So no brush with a puss caterpillar is going to be pleasant. But there is a way to prevent your sting from getting worse.
Your instinct might be to swat the hairy caterpillar away out of fear – but resist that urge. That could break off more venomous spines into your skin. This will only make you more uncomfortable. Nurses will therefore attack the problem differently.
The way nurses dealt with Gaston’s injury is one of the best methods. They gently pulled out each spine with sticky medical tape. Perfect! But if you find yourself removing puss caterpillar stings alone, plastic wrap could work well too.
If these guys pose such a threat, though, why aren’t they more known? Well, some areas aren’t aware of the woolly slugs because they’re native to the southern United States. But as the years pass, these toupee-like caterpillars are crawling ever northward.
There isn’t a definitive answer for what triggered the puss caterpillar to move north – but one expert feels confident in her theory. According to diagnostician Theresa Dellinger – from Virginia Tech’s Insect Identification Lab – climate change is to blame for the territory shift. So what do you need to watch out for?
Usually, puss caterpillars are between 1.2 and 1.4 inches long. And the larger they are, the more power they carry. But don’t go out of your way to remove them! The VDOF says they should definitely be appreciated from a distance.
“If you find the caterpillar, leave it alone and let its natural enemies control their populations. There are a number of other insects that will prey on them at different stages of their life cycle,” the VDOF advised. But what if – as happened to Gaston – you get stung anyway?
If you’re on the receiving end of a puss caterpillar sting, and your symptoms don’t feel manageable, the VDOF recommends you seek medical treatment. People who are prone to more severe insect sting reactions should also see a doctor.
And, of course, you should be aware that venomous caterpillars are far from the only danger lurking in the wild. After an Indiana family enjoyed a day at the beach on their vacation, an invisible predator sent their teen daughter into a desperate fight for her life.
When 12-year-old Kylei Parker and her family first set off on their trip to Destin, Florida, they anticipated a vacation full of sun, sand, and relaxation. But when it finally came time to ditch the gloomy Indiana weather for the Florida sunshine, things immediately got off to a bumpy start.
While Florida is known for its warm weather, it’s also known for its rain, which came down nonstop as Kylei and her family landed in the Sunshine State. It rained the next day, and the day after that, leaving a dark cloud – both figuratively and literally – over their vacation.
Finally, the poor weather passed, though the Indiana family didn’t find soft sand and gentle waves when they ventured down to the beach. The storms churned up some pretty dangerous waves, and beachgoers were only permitted to enter the water ankle deep.
Still, the family wasn’t going to let a bit of bad luck ruin their good time, and so they happily made the most of the time at the beach that they had. All the while, however, an unseen threat was lurking in the water… and it decided to make Kylei its next victim.
The following morning, Kylei woke up with a nagging pain in her right calf, though her mother Michelle assumed it was just a charlie horse. They wrote it off and went on with their day, believing the pain would eventually subside. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
The next day, the pain intensified to an unimaginable level, preventing Kylei from even standing on her feet. When it reached the point that Michelle had to carry her daughter to get her from place to place, the family realized this was no ordinary charlie horse.
Upon returning to Indiana, Michelle brought Kylei to the doctor, who told her to pack a bag and head for the ER. There, she was immediately taken in for an MRI, and after getting the results, they were shocked at what they saw.
Apparently, Kylei had contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating bacteria that likely entered her body through a small scrape on her foot. But there was no time to speculate now: if doctors didn’t act fast, Kylei stood a great chance of losing her leg, or worse — her life.
They started by pumping her body full of fluids to prevent her blood pressure from dropping any further, though within a matter of hours, Kylei began slipping into septic shock. The doctors immediately took several more scans of her leg, which led them to a terrifying discovery.
Not only had a large pocket of the infection collected behind her right knee, but it had also begun to spread rapidly throughout her body. If there was any chance of saving Kylei’s leg, doctors needed to operate — and they needed to do it now.
Kylei was rushed into emergency surgery, where surgeons worked around the clock to remove as much of the infection as they could before it could continue upwards through her body. Unfortunately, this initial operation just wasn’t enough.
In the days that followed, Kylei underwent two more surgeries, after which the doctors deemed her free of infection. Sick and exhausted, Kylei then spent the next week in the hospital recovering from the ordeal.
With rows of stitches in her leg, a heavy bandage, and an IV in her arm, Kylei was finally allowed to return home. However, the following months would prove to be the most difficult part of her recovery.
Between the damage done to her leg by the bacteria and the extensive surgeries, Kylei needed months of physical therapy in order to learn how to walk again. For Michelle, however, this was a small price to pay to have her daughter well again.
“We are not completely better, but we are on the road to recovery,” Michelle wrote on Facebook. “We will have numerous doctors visits, physical therapy and blood work to continue, but all that matters is my girl is ALIVE.”
After living through this traumatic experience, Michelle and her family began working to educate others about the threat of the deadly bacteria. With over 100 million tourists traveling to Florida each year, the risk of contracting this kind of infection is higher than ever.
“I wanted to share her story in hopes that it may help save someone else,” Michelle continued in her post. “We are sharing because this is so critical and so many people don’t know about this. Once you start experiencing the symptoms, it’s already running rampant in your body.”
Indeed, the effects of necrotizing fasciitis are often ignored until it’s too late, as was the case for one Tennessee man who happened to be visiting the beaches of Destin right around the same as Kylei and her family. After returning home from his trip, the man noticed a large black sore on his back.
Believing it to be the product of old age, the man dismissed the sore as well as a series of red bumps that had suddenly appeared on his arms and legs. On July 7th – just 48 hours after his last swim in Florida – the man died, the cause of death being the very same bacteria that nearly cost Kylei her life.