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WARNING: Stinging Tree Asps on the Rise in Katy and Attracting Kids


November 8, 2018

Natalie Cook Clark

More and more Katy residents have been reporting sightings of stinging tree asps. Their sting is extremely painful yet their furry and cuddly appearance begs for little ones (and curious adults) to investigate. Just ask three-year-old Makensi Headley who had a terrifying encounter.


A Painful Encounter

The Headley family of Katy was enjoying a quiet and family-fun evening at their grandparents house in Kelliwood Estates when a seemingly harmless science lesson turned terrifying.

While doing yard work the family came across a curious little furry creature. They believed it to be a caterpillar so Clint Headley took the opportunity to discuss the caterpillar cycle with his three-year-old daughter Makensi. Headley held the insect and then handed it to his daughter to hold.

When their science discussion was over they returned it to a plant in the yard and bid it farewell. This is when Makensi leaned in to kiss it bye and the preschool erupted into screams and tears at the asp (it was no caterpillar) injected many stingers, that looked like tiny fibers in her upper lip.

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 you'll see around here are teardrop shaped, and their hair resembles cotton or fur that's gray to reddish brown and more mature asps have wings.


Getting Stung

The Headley's used tape to remove all 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 Andrea. The next day they took their daughter to the pediatrician and she still had swollen lips, pain, and didn't want to eat. "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."

(Makensi Headley suffered from a swollen upper lip after kissing an asp in Katy.)

When stinging occurs, it's always smart to call the doctor and/or go see a medical professional as the Headley's did with Mekensi. Some websites do recommend oral antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching, but for further medical treatment and severe reactions like uncontrolled rashes and difficulty breathing, you should always contact a doctor immediately.


What to Look For

"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."

How can you avoid these asps? 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 like to hang around:

- in the shade of trees and under leaves

- on playground equipment

- on and under patio furniture.

The burning will continue until all the hairs have been removed making their sting very painful and in need of immediate attention for victims.


How to Avoid Them

With the cool front around the corner and the excitement of fallen leaves it's tempting to enjoy a lot of family time outside and that's fine as long as you're cautious and aware of what could be around you and your family.

Also, avoid going anywhere barefoot, and if you have little ones on the playground, just do a quick check of the equipment to make sure there are no creepy tree asps hiding somewhere unseen.


Cautioning Children

This is one experience that the Headley's do not want to repeat. "After this encounter I am telling my kids not to kiss any more animals especially ones they haven’t seen. They need to find us before they get close to any critters especially small ones," warns Andrea Headley.

Have your encountered these unwanted visitors? Share your asp encounters below in the comments.


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