PET OWNERS are being warned to keep their animals away from processionary caterpillars that are on the move on the ground and that have the potential to kill.
The distinctive caterpillars have an orange-brown colour and blue bands and have been responsible for the deaths of many animals and can also cause a severe, painful rash in humans.
The pine processionary moth flies around May to July and only lives for about one day during which time it must mate and lay its eggs in the foliage of a pine tree. A single female can lay up to 300 eggs.
After hatching they build a white cotton-wool like nest and continue to feed on the pine leaves until they leave the nest which can be anytime from February to April.
At this point, the caterpillars make their way to the ground in a long nose-to-tail chain searching for the next place in their life cycle. This behaviour gives them the name of the ‘processionary caterpillar’.
This is the stage when they can be a real danger to humans and other animals.
Eventually they will burrow just below the ground where they will pupate.
It is the hairs of the caterpillars that can cause problems.
If they are touched or poked they cause a nasty rash and give off dust that can cause respiratory problems. They are particularly toxic for children and animals.
The hairs act like harpoons and can penetrate or irritate any exposed skin.
Dogs are particularly susceptible as they will pick up the hairs on their paws and then lick them as they start to itch. This then leads to the hairs being transferred on to the animal’s tongue and can result in itching, swelling, vomiting and even death.
If you know your pet has been affected then you should immediately go to the vets, where they will probably be given a cortisone injection.
In San Roque (Cadiz) the problem is being actively tackled by the town hall which has employed a contractor to remove the nests in the municipality, particularly in public places and near schools.
They have said the work will be done at night to ‘avoid the inconvenience that may arise during the application of the treatment.’
You should never attempt to remove a nest yourself as it is a job for a specialist.