The distinctive, furry, yellow puss caterpillar is actually the larva of the equally distinctive, furry, yellow southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis. The adult moths are lovely, cuddly-looking things, yellow and cream, with big soft wings and fluffy abdomens. The caterpillars are equally cuddly looking, but the soft yellow setae (hairs) on their body are interspersed with a series of venomous spines which make this caterpillar a definite “no touchie”. Puss caterpillars are not aggressive, but since they look cuddly children have been known to pick them up, and occasionally they fall out of foliage onto people or accidentally wander across skin, where they leave itchy red welts in the pattern of their spines.
This individual puss caterpillar above (the very first one I ever saw in person, so notable even if funny-looking) was apparently caught in a series of rainstorms, and I found it clinging to the side of my house, looking drenched and peeved. You can just see that, if I were to give it a good brushing and get the leaf debris and such off, it would be mostly gray or light tan in color with an orange line down the middle, and an attractive little “tail” (or cowlick, or duck’s bottom) at the end (scroll down to see what this poor thing would look like when dry).
I put gloves on to carefully catch and release the poor little wet thing (I can’t have him/her crawling in my house!) in the empty yard next to mine.
Here’s more of what they’re supposed to look like: