Beware: caterpillars processing!

Published in Nature Watch

The caterpillars of the pine processionary moth (thaumetopoea pityocampa) come out any time between February and April each year.

Pine processionary moth caterpillar nest Pine processionary moth caterpillar nest Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In 2022 there have been large numbers of the fine woolly nests of these caterpillars all around Hvar. They are exquisitely delicately formed, an example of Nature's perfection. Female moths lay their eggs on the branches of pine trees, The caterpillars form their nests from silken threads, which keep them warm and protected through the winter. They feed from the branch on which the nest has been spun. When the caterpillars leave, the nest disappears, leaving no trace of itself.

Pine processionary moth caterpillar nest. Photo: Steve Jones

The journey of the caterpillars out of their nests in search of the ideal place to pupate is fascinating. They form long columns, nose to tail, following a leader in apparently random exploration over a surprisingly wide area. If they meet another column going in a different direction, one column splits to allow the other through, then reforms and continues on its way. When the leader finds the right place, the caterpillars burrow underground to pupate, emerging as moths from the early summer onwards.

The caterpillars in procession. Photo: Steve Jones

Left alone, the caterpillars do no harm. However, they are heavily armed! When touched, they cause an extremely uncomfortable allergic reaction. There is a specific danger for dogs. Treading on the caterpillars or coming into any contact with them causes a severe inflammatory reaction. If the dog licks the affected area, its tongue can be badly damaged, which in the worst of cases can be fatal.

Leaving the nest. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It's been reported that the caterpillars have started processing in early February. Dog owners beware! Don't go walking in the pine woods until the nests are empty. If your dog comes into contact with the caterpillars, consult the vet as quickly as possible.

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