Deadly processionary caterpillars make an early appearance in Spain

Deadly processionary caterpillars make an early appearance in Spain

The lack of rain has advanced the appearance of the first specimens, which can be dangerous to humans and lethal to pets


Wednesday, 1 March 2023, 09:57


The nuisance of the pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) has returned with force to the cities, towns and villages of Spain, «putting the health of its inhabitants and pets at risk every year», according to the country's national association of environmental health companies (Anecpla). The organisation has insisted «systematic prevention measures are carried out to help minimise the harmful effects of this pest».

According to Anecpla, the rising temperatures and low rainfall is causing «a systematic advance of the first specimens of processionary caterpillars, well before they usually appear in late spring».

According to the president of the association, Sergio Monge, «biocidal chemicals have remained as the only, but most expensive treatment, which must be always applied by specialised professionals. It is a very effective control technique that is respectful of the environment, but the high cost is, unfortunately, a limiting factor», he said.

General director of Anecpla, Jorge Galván, warned, «minimal contact with this species can cause everything from dermatitis to eye injuries, hives and allergic reactions and even death in certain cases.»

«Direct contact with the caterpillars is not even necessary,» explains Galván, «just touching one of their hairs (which they throw as a defence strategy when they feel threatened), is enough to cause irritation and allergies, especially if they reach the eyes. These hairs are called »trichomes« and it is estimated that each individual has around 500,000, ready to act as poisoned darts when they feel they are in danger.

Despite being barely 4 centimetres long, the processionary can cause harm to animals much larger than itself, according to the group. Due to the high toxicity of their trichomes, these insects are «extremely dangerous, especially for children and domestic animals

«In the case of pets, especially dogs, this contact can even lead to a tragic end», warned the general director of Anecpla.

The presence of pests of this type of caterpillar is frequent in urban parks and gardens, where the presence of dogs is common. For this reason, Anecpla stressed the importance of being especially vigilant to prevent dogs from sniffing or touching them. Just minimal contact «usually causes the animal symptoms such as swelling of the muzzle and head, intense itching in the affected parts and abundant salivation. While if they do eat them, ingesting the toxin can cause necrosis of the tongue or throat.

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