If you live in Spain, you have probably heard about Pine Processionary Caterpillars or Thaumetopoea Pityocampa, that make big cocoon nests in pine trees and move in groups by forming long lines on the ground. It is considered to be a very threatening moth because of its dangerous interaction with humans and other mammals and also the damage that causes in coniferous forests.
Where are Pine Processionary Caterpillars found and around what season do we see them.
The caterpillars are usually found in pine trees or oak trees and mostly in warm Mediterranean countries like Spain. Their nests are located high in pine trees, and they are responsible for the infection of the trees they inhabit.
The processionary caterpillar period is between December and April, once they are in the ground you will probably see them in groups or forming long lines up to 2 meters. This is actually why they are called processionary, because they walk in lines until they find a suitable place to crawl underground. When they find it, they spend a few months there and around autumn they turn into moths and fly away.
Why are Processionary Caterpillars so dangerous?
The caterpillars have poisonous and irritant brittle hair, they easily get stuck to the skin and cause an instant irritation because of the urticating protein they carry. Pets like dogs and cats are usually attracted by the smell of the caterpillars and they try to eat them. This can be deadly, since only three or four caterpillars can kill a small dog as the little hair touch their tongue and cause necrosis. It is something that happens suddenly and, in most cases, doesn’t give the owner time to react and take the pet to the veterinary.
The first symptoms are tongue swelling and vomiting, this can also be caused by only touching the loose hair the caterpillars leave on the ground. Try to avoid taking your dog on a walk in places with a lot of pine trees or in parks you see the thick nests of processionary caterpillars.
What do I do if I see Pine Processionary Caterpillars or if I find their nest?
Processionary caterpillars are not only dangerous for animals, but they can cause irritation to human skin so if you see them don’t try to touch them with bare hands. If you ever come cross a line of caterpillars or their nest you have to contact the local authorities so that they can remove it with safety.
What if my children touch Pine Processionary Caterpillars?
The toxin that is contained in the tiny hair of the caterpillars can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, coughing and even allergic reaction. If you think that your children have touched processionary caterpillars you have to remove carefully all the visible hair from their skin, wash their skin with warm water and don’t forget to wash their clothes and even hair. If the irritation on their skin or eyes is intense you should get medical help, anti-inflammatory cortisone with relief the infected area.
What can I do to avoid Pine Processionary Caterpillars?
In Spain, caterpillars are not only found in pine trees forests but also in the park, in gardens and golf courts. The best thing you can do is to learn how to identify them and make sure your children understand the danger of these lethal insects and are not going to touch them.
If you are a dog owner, it is recommended to avoid taking your dog on a walk on parks or areas with a lot of pines during the winter and spring months. However, it is important to not let them scare you and discourage you from walking outside and enjoying the nature. If you take the right measures, there is no reason to be afraid of them.