Caterpillars remind me of my garden, eating the plantation, small, harmless, maybe even cute but annoying to the plant life with no risk to me, children or my pets. Ask me about procession caterpillars and I will give you a completely different answer. Friend or foe?
Foe would not even begin to describe these characters, they are the enemy and should be avoided at all costs. Enemy probably sounds too strong a description for a little hairy caterpillar but trust me, do not make a judgment because of its size or because you have always liked them.
Found across Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries where the temperatures are generally warmer, specifically titled Thaumatopoea Pitycampa or the caterpillar of the pine tree. They are considered a threat to the trees, dangerous to animals and to people can cause a very strong allergic reaction caused by the hairs found on their backs.
Traditionally, the nests are found in the pine trees and their home is usually positioned on the sunny side of the tree and can often be spotted from a distance where the pine needles have turned brown.
On closer inspection, white candy floss woven on the branches and delicate silk bags can be seen decorating the trees. These are the nests of the procession caterpillar, protecting them as they grow and keeping them warm.
To feed, they leave the safety of their home at night and walk along the branches to demolish and quake on the pine tree, venturing further afield once they depleted the supplies. They are greedy and destructive and are active in the winter months, often feeding in zero temperatures before returning to the nest to rest and digest their feed in the warmer, sunlight hours.
In March when they are fully grown they commemorate the next stage of their journey, leaving the safety of the nest and tree in search of a burial site.
Why are they named procession caterpillars? When they start to move, they look as though they are marching, like an army in a line, head to tail determined to find a suitable pupation site in the soil. They may travel long distances from the host tree before they bury themselves, spending the warmer months buried as a pupa. In August, the moth emerges from its cocoon, mates and lays its eggs in a pine tree and the cycle commences all over again.
We have lived in Spain for several years now and we have a lovely pet dog named Angel, who is a West Highland Terrier, who loves to prey to hunt and explore the woods around the pine trees. We have never experienced any problems and for the majority of the year it is a safe and pleasant place to walk. During the first quarter of the year, January through April we do have to be vigilant and we prefer to find other areas to walk.
The beginning of the year is the most dangerous time for exposure to the caterpillars, …