Caterpillars (Processional Pine Caterpillars)
Pine Caterpillars (Latin name thaumetopoea pityocampa) are probably one of the most unpleasant creatures you will find in Spain, certainly in areas where pine trees grow in abundance. They are found throughout the warmer regions of Southern Europe, the Near East and North Africa. As well as causing much damage to pine forests, they are a major danger to animals and, to a lesser degree, human beings.
Do not touch them. Warn your children that they are not like the friendly English caterpillars. 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 uninfested 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.
If they drop onto you or your pet, don’t brush them off with your hands because the effect is most unpleasant, causing great irritation, rash and pain. 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 affected part of the branch with a plastic bag, cut down the branch, place it on clear ground and burn it.
If the caterpillars are on the ground marching, it is better first to spray them with lighter fuel and then set them alight. This reduces the risk of flying hairs.
Take care to only do this where you cannot inadvertently start a forest fire because during the summer months the undergrowth and trees are very dry.
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.
Treatment: If a person or animal shows signs of shock, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.
If you have children and are considering buying property, take the above details into consideration.
Golfing. When these caterpillars march across golf courses, play ceases immediately because it is too hazardous to try to clear them away.