The Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is a common pest in the Balearics. Every Spring, residents must be on their guard when the caterpillars or larvae, who have overwintered in their tree top nests, hatch out and make their way in tight processions- nose to tail- down the pine tree trunks to the ground where they bury themselves in soil to pupate. Nests are fairly easy to spot since they are white, tent-like silk structures near the ends of branches, so when you spot these, be vigilant for any brown and black striped hairy caterpillars on trees, the ground or any surface in between.
They tend to be in large groups but individuals do often drop out of the nests so keep eyes peeled. Their irritant hairs cause nasty allergic reactions on contact with skin – some people and anmals being affected more severely than others – but it is not particularly dangerous- treatment for the allergic symptoms is usually very effective.
Severe problems result only when the hairs come into contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes or mouth. In these tissues, the reaction is so severe that it can cause cellular death and loss of large areas of tissue. Dogs will often want to play with these wiggly creatures and are particularly fascinated by their processions. Contact with the tongue, gums or throat can cause life-threatening swelling almost immediately followed by potential loss of the tongue a few days later. Cats tend not to investigate with their mouths as readily as dogs, but they will lick hairs off their paws or coat and experience similar effects.
It is imperative that owners seek treatment at a vet as soon as possible. Intravenous medication can be given to halt the process of the reaction but the earlier this is done, the better the animal´s chances. You may not actually see your pet with the caterpillars, but be suspicious if you encounter any of the following signs:
- Sudden distress, whining and agitation
- Sudden frantic licking or gnawing at one area of the body- often a paw.
- Pawing at the eyes or mouth
- Rubbing the face along the ground
- Excessive drooling
- Mouth hanging slightly open and seems unable to close
- The pet struggles to swallow or breath.
Prevention: Stay away from areas where you know there are a lot of nests in Spring. If walking near pines, keep your dog on the lead. If contact may be unavoidable, animals roaming in forests or in gardens where caterpillars might appear, should wear Baskerville basket muzzles. If you see your dog or cat walk over caterpillars, prevent them from licking their paws and immediately wash them with copious soap and water. You can also try to remove any hairs visible using Sellotape before wetting the area. And most importantly…if in doubt, call a vet!
Source: CalviaVet. Tel.: 971 695 108 After hrs. emergency: 634 524440