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Go Back   Pollensa Forum > BACKGROUND INFORMATION > Flora & Fauna

Flora & Fauna Especially for the botanists and twitchers.

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Old 31-03-2012, 21:01
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Exclamation Beware, Processionary Caterpillars.

A member has been in contact to tell me that these horrible things have been spotted this evening in the Bellsreguard Gardens . I found this info online, do be careful.



They will not be far from a pine tree, but that does not mean that you will only see them in large pine woods, they are just as likely to be found in villages and road side plantings in fact wherever pine trees are present. One of the first signs to be aware of is their white silken nests attached to a branch tip, these become most obvious around December to March. (These caterpillars are known as ‘procesionaria del pino’ in Spanish).

As a moth it has no means of causing us harm, it is only during its development as a caterpillar that you need to be cautious of this small creature. The moths seek out pine trees in the warm summer nights, lay clusters of eggs on the pine needles and so the process begins. There are 5 instars or growth stages to these caterpillars, where they gorge on pine needles, shed their skins and double in size. This growth occurs during the winter when they disperse through the tree at night to feed, thereby avoiding predation, and collect in communal nests by day to increase their warmth and ability to digest. Note that the white candyfloss like nests are cleverly positioned for maximum sunshine. By February these nests can be looking a bit dishevelled, this is because a nest may hold around 300 caterpillars and with no single entrance hole they push their way through the layers, the green bits collecting at the base and falling to the ground beneath are excrement.

The time for them to leave the nest in preparation for the next part of their lifecycle varies with temperature, spanning from January in warmer areas to April in the cool of the mountains, with a few even falling from the trees during windy weather. It is as they leave the trees that most people and pets come into contact with the caterpillars, sometimes with very painful consequences. They are the only caterpillar here to form a long chain, touching nose to tail. This snake-like procession is a real giveaway as to their identity. The line may stretch for a metre or two but if disturbed there could be several smaller groups and scattered individuals. (Each being around 3 to 4cm long). They have gone through a long feeding phase and will now search for a suitable place to burrow underground where they will undergo major changes, from caterpillar through to a moth - without nourishment.

The danger that they pose to humans and animals is a very simple defence mechanism designed to stop them from becoming a meal themselves. Each caterpillar is covered with tiny barbed hairs, it is these which do us harm. They are constantly being dropped throughout its time as a caterpillar. They are too tiny to see, but cover the branches of the tree where the creatures have been feasting and of course the nests are loaded with them. They are even in the air around a heavily infested tree.

Direct contact with the Processionary Caterpillar colonies as they disperse can easily be avoided once you are aware of what to look out for. Inquisitive children, adults and pets must not get too close - it is even said that treading on them has lead to a reaction, as the hairs caught on your shoe can come into contact with your skin at a latter hour.

When humans come into contact with these hairs, they can cause reactions ranging from mild inflammation and irritation to severe anaphylactic shock. If the hairs contact your skin a rash soon forms which can be incredibly itchy, painful and lasts for as much as three weeks.The worst problems occur if you make contact with the caterpillar directly and ingest the hairs. If you get any reaction from contact with these insects medical advice should be sought.
Veterinary services have many emergency calls at the time when the caterpillars are migrating to the ground as dogs can get too close to the intriguing procession and may pick up the hairs onto their paws, these irritate and so they lick them. Once the hairs are on the lips/tongue it will induce itching, swelling and possibly vomiting. Look out for the symptoms of : small white spots in the mouth and on the tongue, excessive drooling and chomping. In some cases partial amputation of the tongue is the only course of action.
These pests which eat only pine needles, are found in warmer parts of Southern Europe, North Africa and across to the Near East. Milder winters are allowing these insects to expand into new areas, both into more northern latitudes and higher elevations. Their favored food tree is Black pine (Pinus nigra) followed by Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster), Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) and Stone Pine (Pinus pinea).
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Old 01-04-2012, 10:35
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Sparky - is this for real - I've just noticed the date
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Old 01-04-2012, 10:44
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Rosie it's not a joke, Google "Processionary Caterpillars" .
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Old 01-04-2012, 11:21
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I've got a really good photo of a nest, I'll try to post it later.
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Old 01-04-2012, 12:35
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Default Processionary caterpillars

Yes these are very nasty little beasties!

I spotted some last year, marching along the Pine Walk.

I also ended up with a skin rash after touching the bark of one of the trees along the Pine Walk and can only imagine that it was down to the hairy caterpillars who had been on there.
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Old 01-04-2012, 15:58
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sparky View Post
Rosie it's not a joke, Google "Processionary Caterpillars" .
Sorry for doubting you Sparky - they just sounded too bad to be true and I just couldnt imagine this crocodile of caterpillars marching down Pine Walk But they do sound really nasty - even if they are simply defending themselves- thanks for the warning, will look out for them and avoid like the plague
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Old 01-04-2012, 16:25
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Years ago, the first time I ever saw a caterpillar caravan, it was being treated, i.e. someone was setting fire to them. Gets rid of any lasting hairs I suppose.
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Old 02-04-2012, 08:37
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We have noticed a white silky cluster high up in a pine tree in Bellresguard gardens! Should anyone be notified? I have seen pictures on the internet of them being shot at people with guns! Would this not disperse the irritant hairs and result in their airborne spreading causing havoc further afield? I understand these are particularly dangerous to pets (dogs and cats licking their paws if these are irritated). I have also been told they are an extreme worry to anyone with a heart condition.
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Old 02-04-2012, 09:36
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As Andrew says, one of the ways that they are destroyed properly is by fire. Not a nice thought really is it. I expect they could be sprayed, but there is always the problem of the chemical used causing just as much danger to the public. But they are really a problem. We watched a nest in our fir tree outside our window a couple of years, and it grew daily, heaving like some sort of alien. By the end of the week, the horrors were out of the nest and munching through the pine needles and making their way down the trunk. We had informed the gardener, but he said there was nothing they could do, and just make sure we parked our car well away from under the tree, checked before we got into the car that none had crawled in, and avoid them as much as we could. The tree survived, and so did we! But you really do have to be on your guard.
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Old 02-04-2012, 09:52
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Lots of pictures here :- pictures of processionary - Google Search
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Old 02-04-2012, 12:11
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The nests do get shot down and are then burned, but usually in February before the caterpillars start coming out. Not sure there has been much shooting this year; no money. For the same reason, spraying of trees in forests etc from airplanes that has taken place in the past to prevent the nests from forming has not happened this winter.
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Old 21-02-2014, 17:50
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Exclamation Processionary Caterpillars

I know all about these little creatures as we have them in our pine trees in our garden & I have already seen about 20 marching on the path the other morning!! We have many pet cats so obviously I'm extremely concerned. Does anyone know if it's possible that the council can remove the nests or know of anyone else that provides this service as they nests are very high in the trees & we're not able to reach them using standard ladders? If you have any info about the council or anyone that can remove them I'd appreciate any contact details you have or advice? Thanks in advance!
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Old 21-02-2014, 19:28
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Maybe you could pop into the council office in the old school building across from the church, i am sure they will be able to advise you .
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Old 21-02-2014, 19:40
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Hey thanks Sparky! Yes will give that a go!
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Old 21-03-2014, 16:59
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Hi PGB, i don't know if you got anywhere with the council but i was talking to Jaime (O Lume) and he told me that he was brought up in the countryside and they had a very effective solution to the problem. They hang clear plastic bags half filled with water from the trees, holes were made in the tops of the bags and it worked because one caterpillar would crawl along, fall into the bag through a hole and drown, then others would see it and follow thinking it was a nest. This reminded me that many years ago i remember seeing plastic bags with water in them, hanging from the trees in the Gommar/Pinaret area and i always wondered what they were for.......now i know .
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