As most of our readers may know, we write about moth and butterfly larvae (a.k.a. caterpillars) fairly regularly, usually at least once a week. We have written articles about caterpillars that look like sticks and caterpillars that look like snakes. We have identified caterpillars that are marked with beautiful colors and intricate patterns and caterpillars that are covered in crystals. However, we have yet to write about the asp caterpillar, an organism that could easily pass as a toupee! So, today is the day, this article will be about a caterpillar that resembles a hairpiece!
The asp caterpillar is a creature known by many names: southern flannel moth larva, puss caterpillar, Italian asp, opossum bug, tree asp, and Megalopyge opercularis in the science community. These caterpillars are found in the eastern United States where they live on oak, elm, and wild plum trees, as well as an array of garden plants including ivy and rose. They are also found in parts of Mexico and Central America. However, more interesting than where you might find one of these creatures is the way they look!
Asp caterpillars are covered in what appears to be luxurious hairs but are actually setae, which are hair-like bristles. Since these caterpillars range in colors that are often natural hairs colors (white, golden brown, and dark gray) they look even more like they might belong on a bald man’s head! We assure you though, you don’t want these larvae anywhere near your head. Hidden in the setae covering these caterpillars are venomous spines that cause extremely painful reactions to human skin upon contact. And when we say extremely painful we mean extremely painful. The sensation has even been compared to breaking a bone or blunt-force trauma, and the discomfort often spreads up and down your body from the sting site…ouch! Luckily, these specimens are only harmful in their adolescent stages. Once they mature, asp moths are no longer dangerous! While the adult moths do have fur similar to the larvae, they don’t have the same hairpiece-like appearance. They are furry with hairy legs and fuzzy black feet.
We hope that you have the chance to see this toupee-like caterpillar and that if you ever have to touch it, it is already matured into a moth! If any of our readers have any stories to share about the asp caterpillar, we invite them to comment on this article.