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Dr Venom:Beware of the most dangerous insects in the Mediterranean!19-03-2012
Photographs & Text previously appeared in Poisonous Creatures of the Mediterranean Bites, Treatments & Identification by Vejay K. Singh. All rights reserved 2012
Spring watch with Dr Venom! Beware! The Processions are marching!
Pine Processional Caterpillars Thaumetopoea pityocampa
Spanish name: Orugas Procesionarios
Processional caterpillar ‘nest’ in Pine tree
And I’m not talking about the traditional Easter processions! Springtime is also when we may encounter probably the most dangerous insects anywhere in the Mediterranean; the Pine Processional caterpillars or ‘Procesionarios’ in Spanish. They are so called, because of their habit of walking head to tail in search of food or a place to pupate.
Description: Generally reddish brown in colour and clothed in long greyish white hair known as setae. There may be hundreds of caterpillars seen walking nose to tail, winding along roadways, paths or golfing greens. The caterpillars are covered with irritant brittle hairs, which cause a severe reaction when they come into contact with human skin. The hairs remain toxic even after the caterpillar has died and can also be carried in the air causing respiratory damage if inhaled. The caterpillars present a high risk during spring and are most virulent from late February and March. The adult moth is overall drab brown and completely harmless.
If you come across these caterpillars: Do Not Touch Them!
Processional’s are found in all Mediterranean climatic areas. The silken nests are easily spotted in pine trees from springtime. The caterpillars feed on pine needles and cause devastation to pine forests. Take extra care when walking amongst pine trees from March onwards, especially if you have children or pets with you.
The hairs when in contact with the skin can cause severe urtication or anaphylaxis.
General symptoms include urticaria and severe itching as well as localised pain which may spread to other parts of the body. The inhalation of hairs can cause serious respiratory complications. Hairs that come into contact with mucus membranes and the eyes will cause severe irritability, stinging and symptoms of conjunctivitis. Children and the elderly can be more susceptible as they have a weaker resistance to the poison. Many victims show signs of shock. In serious cases, anaphylactic shock, increased heart palpitations and respiratory difficulty can lead to fatal consequences.
All pets (cats and dogs) should be kept well away from the Processional’s as they may try to eat them. If they do come into contact, the best advice is to take them straight to a veterinarian. The poison from the hairs can cause necrosis (death rot of tissue) of the tongue and mouth, if not noticed straightaway, it is usually too late for veterinary treatment.
First Aid: An ice pack will help to alleviate the inflammation, take Anti Histamine tablets as an early treatment. Apply antiseptic lotion topically to sooth the skin and seek immediate medical advice. The effects can last for weeks or months. Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation as well as other treatments depending on individual circumstances and antihistamines for any allergic reactions.
Toxic tip! The very first rule is never to touch any ‘hairy’ caterpillars. Do not use your hands to remove a Processional caterpillar, if one lands on you; use a stick. Both, skin contact and the distribution of flying hairs can cause severe symptoms. Do not burn the ‘nests’ as the resulting smoke is highly toxic if inhaled!
Look out for my new book: Dr Venom’s Complete Mediterranean Wildlife coming soon! Join my Facebook to keep track with my Nature updates. https://www.facebook.com/DrVenom.org
Photographs & Text previously appeared in Poisonous Creatures of the
Mediterranean Bites, Treatments & Identification by Vejay K. Singh. All rights
By: Dr Venom
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I have just returned from Gran Alacant in January and these nests are common.
Thank you for this article. J
A Naturalist who actually looks as cool as he sounds - now there's something different!
I purchased his book - its Excellent! especially useful if you live in the campo
who is he?
this is serious!im afraid to walk in the forest now..
Very informative, thank you Dr Venom
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