The Misery of the Processionary Caterpillars

Processionary caterpillars have blighted the region recently with dogs being the main victim. These bugs pose a real threat to the pine trees, the larvae eat the pine needles with such speed that the trees don’t always survive. But more alarmingly, they can provoke severe allergic reactions. The hairs on the caterpillar contain an irritating protein called thaumetopein. These hairs are easily airborne and when they come into contact with human skin, painful rashes and serious allergic reactions can occur. Pets easily pick up the hairs on their paws, which they then lick to ease the irritation. The hairs, in contact with the mouth and nose, cause the lips, tongue and nose to swell up to an enormous size and it can end fatally for your pet.  

At the end of the summer, the adult moths mate and the females lay the eggs on the pine needles. Once hatched, the caterpillars feed off the needles and build a nest that looks like candy floss. When they are ready, in the warmer weather - about this time of year - the caterpillars start their procession to the ground in search of food until eventually they bury themselves into the ground to pupate. As moths they live for a very short period, during which they mate and lay their eggs in the pine tree.

The advice is to be extra vigilant. One vet in Puerto Pollensa advises that you should avoid walking your dog anywhere where there are pine trees. If you do see the caterpillars, leave immediately. Keep in mind that these horrid bugs bury themselves under the ground and dogs often pounce on them without owners realising. If your dog does come into contact with a caterpillar, wash its mouth out immediately and get to your nearest vet as soon as possible. One TOTN reader’s dog was sick within 30 seconds of digging up caterpillars, and within 5 minutes she couldn’t walk. Do not stamp on them, the hairs scatter in the breeze and can cause an immediate reaction.

For homeowners with palm trees in the garden, prevention is key and this can be done with trunk injection during the autumn months so that the tree has a defence system in place as the caterpillars begin their feast. When the nests are visible, seek professional help. They should be destroyed safely and efficiently. If you have pine trees that you are concerned about, one company who offers trunk injection is the Pine Tree Doctor.