Processional Pine Caterpillars
Pine Caterpillars thaumetopoea pityocampa are one of the most unpleasant creatures you will find in Spain. When we first came to this area we rented a property under many pine trees and the property manager did not warn us about how dangerous they are, knowing that we had 3 young children. They are found in areas where pine trees grow in abundance. As well as causing much damage to pine forests, they are a major danger to animals and we’ve even heard stories of dogs having to have their tongues removed so watch your pets.
Do not touch them! Warn your children that they are not like the friendly caterpillars we play with in the UK, dont allow toddlers to play round the garden in the months of the caterpillar’s processions.
The very fine hairs on these creatures are poisonous and most dangerous. They can be seen living in silk cocoon style nests hanging in the pine trees to which they are most harmful, stripping them of their pine needles. When hungry, they leave their cocoon to seek another non-infested tree on which to feed.
They travel nose to tail in a line, hence the name Processional. They are most noticeable from January to mid April and are at their most dangerous in mid/late February. The caterpillars are often seen in the evenings, walking in procession from tree to tree. This is amazing to watch from a distance, of course, and is how we first noticed them. Thinking it was a long piece of string, went to pick it up until realising it was actually a long line of Caterpillas. this is what got us talking about them to other expats who then informed us to the danger.
If they drop onto you or others don’t brush them off with your hands because the effect is most unpleasant for the both of you, causing great irritation, rash and pain, even collecting the washing in if they have been on the clothes this can irritate your skin, I speak from experience in this. Dogs, cats and people can suffer from shock. The hairs of the caterpillars are still virulent even when the creatures are dead. Do not hit them with sticks because hairs flying in the air are just as dangerous. Burn them, but be careful of floating hairs. If the caterpillars are in the tree cocoon state, first spray the nest with hair spray (to seal down the hairs), cover the cocoon and the effected part of the branch with a plastic bag, cut down the branch, place it on clear ground and burn it. If you live in more urbanized areas you will get the council moving round to spray the trees, if this is not the case in your area please look into either spraying them yourselves or paying another to do the job.
If you live near pine trees, it is recommended that you keep Anti Histamine tablets handy as an early treatment. In particular, avoid ingesting the hairs. Dogs are most at risk by sniffing the ground where the caterpillars have marched. Take particular care with your eyes. If affected the result is serious, causing pain and swelling similar to a bad case of conjunctivitis. If a person or animal shows signs of shock, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.
The pine trees provide much needed shade, and this is the reason we chose the property, thinking of the children and keeping them safe from the sun. The caterpillars weren’t brought to our attention and this might of changed our minds on the choice of property.