A stitch in time saves nine. This English proverb is apparently being followed by local authorities on the Costa del Sol. In October they started preventive campaigns against the plague of processionary caterpillars known to Spaniards as 'procesionaria del pino'.
The caterpillar is a major economic pest in coniferous forests in southern Europe including Andalucía, where the caterpillars are responsible for the defoliation of coniferous trees.
By forming long snakelike lines- up to two metres long- the caterpillars burrow into soft ground before pupating into moths.
The caterpillara are covered in urticating hairs, which can be inhaled or land unnoticed on clothing causing respiratory difficulties or a serious allergic reaction. The hairs can irritate any exposed skin causing inflammation and even severe anaphylactic shock. These caterpillars can even cause the death of dogs and other animals.
Lines of these caterpillars can be found on the warm Costa del Sol much earlier than its usual late winter-early spring period. Therefore, most preventive campaigns start in autumn, as in the case of Torremolinos, with Los Pinares and other large areas of pine trees.
The traditional method of control is by spraying phytosanitary products as well as injections into the trunk of the tree; the biocide enters into the sap, eventually reaching the leaves on which the processionary caterpillar feeds.
The local authorities stress that trees located on private property are the responsibility of the owners. The private estate owners also know that a timely effort in autumn will prevent more work later on. If you are aware of the presence of processionary caterpillars in your garden or patio, it is important to contact the local town hall and ask what their policy is for control and eradication. As a rule, in some areas, the council has a removal service, otherwise you should contact pest control to get nests removed in a safe way. It should be remembered under no circumstances to try to handle the caterpillars, cut down the nests or try to burn them.