Guzano Peluche | The venomous caterpillar

A caterpillar covered with grey and orange fur on a branch
Guzano Peluche (c) Tracey Fandre

As the fieldbase medic on a non-governmental organisation’s expedition, I have to deal with a fair few unexpected scenarios. Few more interesting than the case of a suspected Guzano Peluche bite. A type of venomous caterpillar, a primarily inquisitive interaction with this insect can become rapidly distressing.

A venomous caterpillar covered in dull orange fur on moss.
Instagram: @runnerofthewoods

This peculiar looking insect can be found lurking in oak, elm and citrus trees in areas of South and Central America extending up to the southern areas of the United States including Mexico, Virginia and Florida. It is commonly known throughout the Americas as the Southern-flannel moth or puss-caterpillar.

This venomous caterpillar passes through the butterfly lifecycle just like any other except with one significant difference. Instead of forming a cocoon, the insect sheds its layer of colourful fur, using it instead as a coat of armour. The layer of hair can be one of many colours ranging from a dull grey or orange to fluorescent  yellow. Don’t be fooled by the teddy bear disguise,  the ‘hairs’ are in fact venomous spines, causing extreme pain, nausea, vomiting and even paralysis.

A yellow and orange furry venomous moth on a green leaf
Instagram: @dawnlg.photography

Previous case reports have described the pain akin to that of a broken bone or blunt force trauma. Don Hall, an entomologist at the University of Florida, describes a patient experiencing an intense burning sensation extending to the should from a bite on the palm.

A caterpillar covered with grey and orange fur on a branch
Guzano Peluche (c) Tracey Fandre

A Venturer recounts her unfortunate interaction with the venomous caterpillar

Within twenty minutes of feeling a slight sting to her right palm, one of the members of the expedition developed clawing of her hand. Both the distal and middle interphalangeal joints were fully flexed and there was mild hyperextension of the metacarpophalangeal joint. The thumb was externally rotated and adducted at the metacarpophalangeal joint and flexed at the interphalangeal joint. There was diminished sensation over the entire hand and neuropathic burning pain which gradually began extending up the forearm. Within an hour of the initial bite, systemic symptoms began to manifest, including nausea, one episode of vomiting and general lethargy.

As the fieldbase medic I quickly prescribed an oral dose of prednisolone and chlorphenamine but this didn’t halt the progressive symptoms and the venturer was required to be medically evacuated from the project to attend a local hospital. There, after an intravenous infusion of the same two drugs the symptoms began to resolve over the next few hours. Full resolution of the symptoms was not until a full week after the initial bite. Full sensation and strength was regained and there were no troubling sequelae.

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As the fieldbase medic on a non-governmental organisation’s expedition, I have to deal with a fair few unexpected scenarios. Few more interesting than the...
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