The Pine ‘Processionary’ Caterpillar Can Kill Your Dog
The Pine Processionary caterpillar looks like a harmless creature, but this couldn’t be further from the truth… This particular species of caterpillar is so poisonous, it case cause the death of a dog and can seriously affect human beings. It is about 4cm long, very hairy and moved along the ground in a group of more than one caterpillar in a precise single line, hence the nickname “processionary”.
These insects are very dangerous because of the 500,000 highly urticating hairs (trichomes) that cover their body and which they shed if they feel threatened. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are truly toxic darts. If these darts come in contact with the skin of pets and humans they can cause local skin reactions, injuries to the eyes, skin, bronchial tubes, severe anaphylaxis and even necrosis of the dog's tongue. The scariest part of all is that direct contact with the stinging hair is not the only way to come across these trichomes, the wind is also an avid transporter of these poisonous little hairs.
Here are some interesting facts about the Pine Processionary Caterpillar
The pine processionary is not just found in the mountains but also in parks and gardens of many cities.
Many dogs are curious about the large number of caterpillars moving in procession, approaching them, sniffing them or carrying the hair on their legs. When they feel pain in their legs, they may lick them and end up with stinging hairs in their mouths.
The damage can range from an allergic reaction in which the face, oesophagus and the stomach of the dog can swell, to parts of the tongue being amputated because of necrosis, to the suffocation and death if the infection reaches the larynx. For all these reasons, it is of vital importance to go to the vet as soon as possible.
Contact with the processionary can cause anything from hives and mild skin reactions to anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction).
If you think there may be processional caterpillars in the area where you are with your dog, do not let go of the dog, control it at all times with the leash.
The clearest signs that the dog has been in contact with the processionary caterpillar are: nervousness, excessive salivation, swelling of the tongue and/or lips, and sometimes fever. It will also desperately try to scratch its mouth because of the pain.
If you suspect that your dog has had contact with a processionary, take it to the vet. You'll need to give him fast-acting steroids
We insist that you take your pet to the vet as quickly as possible as major injuries and even death can occur within one to two hours of contact.
At the time, you can wash the dog's mouth out with water but don't rub it in as you could break the caterpillar's hairs and further spread the toxins.
The processionary is a social caterpillar that lives within the community. In fact, there are about 60 of them that form the procession that moves from the tree to the ground.
It is not known why, but the one who leads the procession of caterpillars is always a female.
The butterfly can lay up to 300 eggs that will all stick together on a pine needle.
If in winter you see bags that look like cotton on the trees, what you will have before your eyes are processional nests.
The preferred trees of the processional caterpillars are: the black pine, the Canary Island pine, the Scots pine, the maritime pine, the Aleppo pine and the stone pine. Additionally, they can also nest in cedars and firs.
Don't even think about tampering with a processional caterpillar or the nest yourself. It's dangerous and you could spread the plague. Don't step on it even if you're wearing shoes.
Because it gets hotter at the end of the winter, the processionaries appear earlier.
The number of processionary caterpillars has increased partly due to the large pine plantations in Mediterranean areas.
If you see processionaries in a garden or urban park, alert the municipal authorities: police, town hall, etc.
Processionary caterpillars live in the warmer parts of Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.