Ever heard or the Pine Processionary Caterpillar? I had no idea of its existence until my mate Dave Browning (who is a walking encyclopaedia Britannica) told me all about it. After listening to Dave’s explanation of this dangerous little creature I had to find out more incase one dropped on my head whilst walking my clients dogs in the Pine Forests of Ibiza!
The Pine Processionary (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is a moth of the family Thaumetopoeidae. It is sometimes placed in the genus Traumatocampa and is found in the warmer regions of southern Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. It is the habit of this particular caterpillar to move over the ground in long head-to-tail processions. As a defense mechanism it will sting with protruding hairs out of its body any person or animal that comes into contact with them… it is this defense mechanism that has brought the caterpillars to the attention of the public.
The insect is active only during the colder times of the year, spending the warm summer months as a pupa buried in the ground. The moths begin to emerge from the soil in August and shortly thereafter mate and seek out pine trees where they place their eggs.
Amazingly the caterpillars rest in the nest during the day and as the nest heats up by the suns rays they are then able to digest the food they collect overnight. By March the caterpillar is fully grown and at this time they leave their nest, following each other in long, head to tail processions and seek out pupation sites in the soil this is when you will spot the most spectacular processions of these furry creatures but they also form single file processions as they advance over the branches of the host tree in search of food, as many as three hundred caterpillars have been observed following each other from head to tail. However, appearances can be deceptive and at this stage of their lives, Pine Processionary Caterpillars pose a potential danger to humans and domestic animals as each caterpillar has around 60,000 white hairs containing a toxin, which can cause severe rashes, temporary blindness and even respiratory problems. Experts say those who come into contact with them should seek advice from a doctor immediately.
The problems are worse for dogs and cats which can suffer extreme allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock which can result in death. Symptoms to look out for are breathing problems, drooling, and white spots in the mouth. It’s around this time of year that the cute little caterpillars emerge from their host trees in processions looking for soft earth to burrow in. So next time your out walking through the Pine Forests see if you can spot a procession of caterpillars just don’t get too close!!
by Mikey Slade
Hello my name is Mikey Slade. My main passion in life is the welfare of animals and ensuring they are treated with respect, patience, kindness and love. For the past 15 years I was London’s most trusted and reliable dog walker and pet sitter. Previous to setting up my own dog walking and pet sitting service in London I worked at Battersea Dogs Home as a Veterinary Nurse and Rehomer. I have studied animal science, veterinary nursing and animal behaviour both at agricultural college in England and Kenya Africa.
by Anna Sanz