Jesselliot Perro de Agua Espaņol

Processionary Caterpillars

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Processionary Pine Caterpillars in Spain

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The nest has the appearance of white candy floss.

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A close up.

Many people who live in Spain or travel with their dogs to Spain need to be made aware of one of the most dangerous natural enemies of dogs that can be found in some gardens and in the countryside.

 

The processionary pine caterpillar as the name suggests makes its home in a certain type of pine tree. This tree is very popular here in Spain and is a protected species so even if you have pine trees in the garden you cannot cut them down.

 

There is only one generation per year and most of the time the caterpillars are not seen and therefore not a threat. The most dangerous time is in February, March and April when they start to come down from the pine trees in search of food. The caterpillars can do a lot of damage to pine trees and when they have stripped a tree of all its needles they will form a long line and begin their search for other pine trees and more food.

 

Experiments in America have shown that if the caterpillars are put in a circle nose to tail they will go round and round until they die from lack of food.

 

This processionary line makes them particularly attractive to young children, who are used to their non-toxic cousins in England. However, dogs are very much at risk as they tend to sniff the caterpillars and inhale the poison.

 

If you are visiting Spain in the early part of the year and are travelling through areas of pine trees have a look out for the nests. They are very easy to see. Just look for white cocoons similar to candy floss in the trees and make a hasty exit.  Whatever you do, do not stop and go walking about under the trees.

 

The long line they form makes them easily identifiable, hence the name. Long hairs give out poison that when touched irritates the skin. Allergic reactions are not unknown and if ingested the consequences can be dire.

 

The real risk of complications to a healthy human being is minimal, but we have had first hand experience of humans and dogs being affected, fortunately with no serious outcome.

 

David was in Mallorca a few years ago working outside. As it was hot he took shelter under a pine tree. Not being aware at the time of the caterpillars he thought nothing of it. Within seconds of brushing against the tree he became aware of an intense feeling of itching and burning, similar to pins and needles all over him. This later developed into an itchy rash.  He went to the chemist who advised an immediate trip to the doctor. At the doctors he was given two injections, cream for the rash and a course of tablets. It is very important to complete the course of tablets as any dust from the tree that has been inhaled can cause lung damage.

 

The allergic reaction can be caused by the tiniest bit of dust that floats down from an infected tree. You do not have to touch the caterpillar.

 

We also have a dog who was affected. She survived against all odds much to the vets amazement who told us she would not live the night.

 

Much to our horror one morning we woke to find Dina, (Amazonia de Jesselliot), frothing at the mouth. Her tongue was black and swollen almost to the point of choking her when we rushed her to the vet. He gave her several injections and said the only thing we can do to relieve the pain and make her last few hours more comfortable was to drip melted ice on her tongue. 

 

Her tongue was black and horrible and but with every drip of iced water went pink where the water touched. Within seconds the same area went black again. For 24 hours we sat dripping water onto her tongue every few seconds.

 

Remarkably she survived the night and the vet gave her more injections the next day.

 

Three days and much iced water later the centre of her tongue started to return to a more natural colour. The edges of her tongue were cream coloured and very sticky.

 

On the fourth day the edge of her tongue started to come away all around the tip and halfway up each side. The best way of describing it is say that it looked like melted mozzarella, all stringy and gooey!

 

Dina was one of the lucky ones. Her tongue is a funny shape, but some dogs lose half the tongue across the middle or even the sides of their mouth.

 

To see her now you would never know and she is always one of the first after the ball or jumping into the pool.