The Processionary Caterpillar – A Dog Hazard!!
During our travels we got to learn about a certain type of caterpillar that although not found in Malta, all dog owners should be aware of (especially those travelling with their dogs). We are referring to the Processionary Caterpillar. This caterpillar is extremely dangerous to small mammals such as dogs and even small children. In certain extreme cases contact with this caterpillar can prove to be fatal. This caterpillar is mainly found in south Europe.
We will not go in depth about the biology of this caterpillar as this is beyond the scope of this post. We just want to share with you the main characteristics so you are able to recognise it and more importantly stay away from it.
Processionary Caterpillar – Appearance
The Processionary Caterpillar basically looks like an average caterpillar with hairs all over the entire body. It is these hairs that make this caterpillar so dangerous. These hairs cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals. This is especially so towards the end of their larval development when these caterpillars have the ability to eject the hairs upon contact, or under stress. These hairs have like microscopic harpoon tips that penetrate the skin causing severe rash by injecting a certain type of protein into the victim’s body. Allergic reactions to this protein will follow.
The first visual feature that distinguishes these caterpillars from other species is the way they migrate. They are called processionary because they are found walking in line one after the other. Sometimes there can be hundreads of them in a single line. Therefore if you have your dog wondering off unattended in an area where these caterpillars are present, most likely there will be groups and not just one. This increases the hazard they pose. It is therefore advisable to keep dogs on the leash as soon as you see signs of the presence of these caterpillars.
Processionary Caterpillar – Signs of presence
One can know if such caterpillars are in the area by observing the trees around. This type of caterpillar lives in nests that would be dangling from the trees. These nests look like candy floss attached to trees. Certain species of such caterpillars are found in areas of a certain type of pine tree. There are some other species that are found in areas of oak trees. In order to be safe we always inspect the trees around us irrespective of what they are. Fortunately we never encountered any of these caterpillars. In case your dog ever gets in contact with such caterpillars, rush him to the vet immediately.