Beware! Toxic Processionary Caterpillars

Be very aware, as we are now entering the peak period when the dangerous processional caterpillars come down from their nests
They form a line on the floor as they march off to find a place to pupate.
Dangerous to animals and humans….Keep clear.

Dog walkers need to be particularly vigilant for this tiny but deadly creature that could kill your pet. They pose a major risk to children and adults causing dermatitis, eye damage and severe allergic reaction and in pets, even death,”  

Dogs are the main victims as when they come into contact with the caterpillars they can pick up the hairs on their paws, which are then licked because of the irritation and the poison spreads to the mouth. They could suffer breathing difficulties, vomiting or start foaming at the mouth and should be taken urgently to the nearest veterinary clinic for an immediate cortisone and antibiotic injection. Depending on susceptibility, humans can find themselves anywhere between mildly to severely affected.

With the recent warm weather, comes the threat of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar. The eggs are laid in candyfloss-like nests in pine trees where they remain during the cold winter months. As the temperature starts to rise with the approach of spring, the caterpillars hatch and drop to the ground to search for food.

If you have spotted the nests of the pine processionary caterpillar in the pine trees in, or near your garden, you will want to know how to get rid of them, safely.

Firstly you will notice what seems to be a silky white nest of what could be cotton wool high up in a pine tree.

In young pine trees that have not yet gained great height, they are easy enough to deal with. The problem is how to get rid of a pine processionary caterpillar nest high up in a mature tree which of course can, depending on the variety, reach 80 metres in height.

Most pine trees in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Spain are smaller than this, thanks in part to their type, to gardeners pruning them to prevent too much height and drought which does not encourage them to grow high.

Take the nests down and burn them

If you can safely reach the nests of these caterpillars, then you should take steps to remove them, the earlier in the year you spot it, the better.

The developing caterpillars leave their nests at night to feed off the sap and needles of their host trees, damaging them, so the earlier the problem is dealt with, the better for the tree in question. The smaller the nest, the less developed the caterpillars and so the easier they are to destroy.

Wear gloves and clothing which covers as much of your body as possible, and detach the nest from the tree – cutting the branch the nest is on if the nest looks like breaking up offering an escape route. As soon as the nest is on the ground, burn it to make certain its occupants are dead.

You can either start a mini-bonfire (weather and other conditions  permitting) with papers and dry twigs around it, or use an aerosol can and a lighter. Spray the content of the aerosol on the nest and then set it alight and watch it explode. Keep your distance if you do it this way.

Afterwards, change all your clothing to make sure no part of the nest attached itself.