KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
October 24, 2020
By Natalie Cook Clark
More and more Katy residents have been reporting sightings of stinging tree asps. Unfortunately, their furry and cuddly appearance begs for little ones (and curious adults) to investigate. Children and dogs are mostly at risk to become victims of the asp's painful sting.
Fall marks the Texas asp mating season, which puts the end of October and early November in peak asp season. These cute looking bugs often emerge in residential yards putting them in the direct path of Katy residents and their families.
What are Tree Asps?
Tree asps, like most stinging caterpillars, belong to the family of flannel moths - in this case - the Southern Flannel Moth. They're tricky to spot - lots are only about the size of a quarter. The ones found around here are teardrop shaped, and their hair resembles cotton or fur that's gray to reddish brown. More mature asps have wings.
A Painful Encounter
While in moth form, these critters are harmless, however, their earlier furry, caterpillar forms can actually be dangerous. The caterpillar's furry appearance can lure curious children and pets to touch or play with them.
A few years ago, the youngest daughter of the Headley family was enjoying a fun evening in Kelliwood Estates when a seemingly harmless science lesson turned terrifying. Katy dad, Clint Headley found the caterpillar on a bush and picked it up to introduce it to his three-year-old daughter. The caterpillar did not sting him. Not knowing he'd picked up a tree asp, Clint turned the encounter into a science lesson about caterpillars.
When their science discussion was over, they returned the caterpillar to a plant in the yard and bid it farewell. That's when Clint's daughter, Makensi leaned in to kiss it goodbye. The preschooler erupted into screams and tears as the asp (it was no innocent caterpillar) injected many stingers, that looked like tiny fibers into her upper lip.
The Headleys used tape to remove all of the stingers, and then gave their daughter Benadryl and pain medication.
"Makensi slept a lot that evening, and her lip was still swollen and painful the next morning," says her mother Andrea.
The next day, Makensi still had swollen lips, pain, and didn't want to eat so they took their daughter to the pediatrician.
"We continued to treat with Tylenol and Benadryl as instructed by her doctor, and on the fourth day after the attack she woke up saying it didn't hurt anymore," says Andrea.
When stung by an asp, it's wise to call a doctor and/or seek immediate medical attention, as the Headleys did with Makensi. The burning will continue until all the hairs have been removed, making the asp's sting very painful.
Some websites recommend oral antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching. But for further medical treatment and severe reactions, like uncontrolled rashes and difficulty breathing, always contact a doctor immediately.
Protecting Furry Friends
Katy residents have been posting stories on social media this year about their dogs being stung by the asp. Corrine Blake from University Parks discussed via Nextdoor her dog being stung last season. She sought advice on the best way to treat her yard for these pests. Unfortunately, the type of treatment that would kill these asps would also get rid of useful and necessary bugs.
If your dog does get stung, apply an ice pack to the area and/or a baking soda paste to treat the swelling. Just like with humans, always try to safely remove the stingers. Tape is helpful.
Recognizing the Asps
"I didn't know about these asps," said Andrea. "I had seen one on my dog's leash about an hour earlier. Luckily I used another part of the leash to knock it off."
In the immature stages (pictured above), a tree asp is covered in fine hairs and spines packed with venom that produce an extremely painful rash or sting. In particular, the caterpillars local to Katy can be found:
In the shade of trees and under leaves
On playground equipment, such as slides
On and under patio furniture
How to Avoid the Asps
With much-desired cool fronts and the excitement of fallen leaves, children and their families may spend more time outside. Everyone should be cautious and aware of what could be enjoying the outdoors too.
Avoid going anywhere barefoot, to avoid innocently stepping on an asp. Also, check playground equipment to make sure there are no creepy tree asps hiding somewhere unseen.
The Headleys certainly don't want a repeat of this experience.
"I am telling my kids not to kiss any more animals, especially ones they haven’t seen,” warns Andrea. “They need to find us before they get close to any critters - especially small ones."