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by Valerie

August, 2007

Southern Flannel Moth

southern flannel moth

Many moths go completely unnoticed because they are nocturnal. Every so often, though, I happen to find one resting where it ended up the night before. This was the case of the southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis) pictured above. It is a male, as evidenced by the very feathery antennae (females have thinner antennae). At less than 3/4 of an inch in length, this tiny creature appeared as a very furry plush toy, especially since it didn't want to move much at all.

The flannel moths, though soft and harmless as adults, are much better defended as caterpillars. They are known as puss caterpillars, or asps. The larvae are covered with hair, too, which doesn't look quite as soft as the moth but does appear innocuous. This is deceptive because the hair actually hides stiff, hollow spines that contain a very irritating poison. These spines easily break off if touched, producing at least a rash and itching, and sometimes a much more severe reaction in people who are sensitive to the chemicals. It is easy to avoid the caterpillars, but they sometimes hide on the undersides of leaves and so may go unnoticed until contact is made.

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