Print Posted By Lost in France on 1 Sep 2008 in Living in France - Pets

Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillar

There are two types of Processionary Caterpillar (Chenilles Processionnaires) in France the Pine Processionary and the Oak Processionary. These small caterpillars usually around 3 - 4 cm long are covered with as many as 63,000 pointed defensive hairs containing an urticating toxin, these hairs break off readily and easily become airborne. Contact with the caterpillar's hair can cause a severe allergic reaction in both people and pets, if breathed in it can trigger breathing difficulties and irritation to the eyes, mouth and throat.

Processionary caterpillars are found in southern France, Spain and other parts of Mediterranean Europe but global warming and mild winters mean they are rapidly heading north and in recent years have been discovered in parts of England and as far north as Holland and Germany.

Eggs are laid by the Pine or Oak Processionary moths during the summer months which later hatch into the caterpillars the following spring. The caterpillars are active through to the end of summer during which time they are highly social, forming colonies in large white cobweb/candy floss like nests in trees which they spin from their own silk. They are called processionary caterpillars because once they have exhausted the food from the tree that they've colonized they descend from these nests in a long single file to search for another tree or a place to pupate sometimes covering long distances along the ground.

A nest of Pine Processionary caterpillars

Unfortunately some dogs are attracted to the caterpillars may try to sniff or eat them thus breathing in or ingesting the hairs which can cause a severe reaction often to the dogs mouth and tongue, in severe cases necrosis of the tongue can occur causing the dog to eventually loose part or all of its tongue.

Even the caterpillars empty nests can cause problems as they can still contain large quantities of the caterpillar's hair and disturbing a nest can make these hairs airborne.

If you spot the nests while out and about with your dog it is best to avoid the area and if you are unfortunate enough to come across the caterpillars on the ground do not try to handle them or move them and don't let your pet sniff them. If it's too late and your dog is showing signs of irritation around the mouth, nose or eyes or other symptoms seek immediate advice from your veterinary surgeon.

If you discover the caterpillar nests in your garden or land it is very important not to try to remove them yourself even if the nests are empty, seek the advice of a professional or ask your local mairie. Do not let children or pets play near the nests and warn children not to handle the caterpillars.

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