My husband and I found this hairy caterpillar crawling along the handrail of the boardwalk at Grand Bay Wetland Education Center near Valdosta, Georgia. It was about 1 1⁄4 inches long with a rusty-orange “mane” on top of its wedge-shaped body, brown hairy sides with a white strip toward the back of each side. It had a narrow, flat, tail-like appendage in back. When I turned it over, it initially formed a ridge along the ventral side, too, so that it was almost diamond shaped. Then it curled into the ball you see on the leaf. I don’t know what it would eat. The trees along that part of the boardwalk are black gum and pond cypress with button bush, various sedges, rushes, and fragrant water lilies beneath.
The caterpillar of the Southern Flannel Moth, Megalopyge opercularis, is known as the Puss Caterpillar (referring to its catlike appearance) or Asp (referring to its very very painful sting). They feed on a variety of deciduous tree leaves.