The Caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth
The Caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth
In the area of Spain where I live there is a pesky little critter that is a real nuisance at this time of year it is the caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth.
In late August the female moth lays her eggs on the pine needles which will provide the food that the caterpillars will need when they hatch. The female can lay up to as many as three hundred eggs which at this stage are really minute and they are all clumped together when she deposits them in a mass on the pine needles on the pine tree.
It takes about a month for the minute caterpillars to hatch but once hatched they eat and grow quite rapidly. The caterpillar goes through five growth stages at the end of each stage it moults its skin to accommodate its new growth. It is not until the caterpillar reaches the stage of it third moult that it begins to build the communal silken nest that you see adorning the pine trees.
The pine tree is their food source and the nest protects them from the cold and wet of the winter months. You will often find more than one of these nests on a pine tree and seeing that there can be several hundred caterpillars in a single nest they can do quite a lot of damage to the tree stripping bare the branches near their nest as they eat the pine needles voraciously.
A Caterpillar Nest in a Pine Tree
Dangerous Little Critters
The caterpillars forage and eat by night and sleep by day, this way they avoid attack from many of the daytime predators such as the birds and certain types of wasps.
The caterpillar of the Pine Processionary moth can be quite dangerous to both pets and people because they have fine hairs that are poisonous. These hairs are part of the defensive mechanism of these caterpillars and can be fatal to cats and dogs and in some very rare cases also to people if they are allergic to them.
You can see the hairs quite clearly in the next photograph.
A Close up of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar
We have a dog and on our normal dog walking route there are many Pine Trees that have these nests in them so at this time of year we go out and try to remove all of the winter nests of these caterpillars that we can find.
We have found in previous years that if we do this before the caterpillars begin to process then we can remove the nest and reduce the infestations on our dog walking route to almost zero. In addition to this we have found that each year we are finding less and less of these nests in the Pine trees near us.
Unfortunately at this time of year the nests of these caterpillars are decorating many of the local pine trees and each one of these nests can house up to several hundred of these caterpillars.
Below are photographs of some of these nests that I took this morning I have enabled the 'click on image to see full size' feature and if you have the time I think that you will enjoy the photos more if you take the time to do this. I uploaded the photos at full resolution so that you can see the fine details.
You can see on the outside of the nests that there are some full grown caterpillars already out of their nest.
A nest of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar
They call these caterpillars Processionary because that is what they do at the end of their 5th and final growth stage as a caterpillar. These processions take pace, when they go searching for a suitable site to pupate in; when the caterpillars set off to search it is always in a procession and at the right time of year you can see many of these processions of caterpillars in a nose to tail train following a leader.
The caterpillars are searching for soft soil that they can burrow into in order to pupate ready for the next stage of their lifecycle. Once they find the site they will burrow in and there they will change into a pupae and they will remain buried underground until they emerge the next summer to live out the final part of their lifecycle as a Pine Processional moth.
These processions normally take place around the middle to late February until about the middle of April. During this time great care has to be taken with your dogs so that they don’t come into contact with the caterpillars.
During these months when the caterpillars are processing we never let our dog off his lead on his walks because as vigilant as we are at removing all the nests that we can see at some point we usually see some of these caterpillars in procession on one of our walks.
The caterpillars normally build their nests on the side of the tree that faces the sun. This makes the location of the nests a little simpler. Once we have located a nest we cut it off the tree and place it in a carrier bag. It is important when doing this to take precautions as the hairs of these caterpillars can cause some very nasty rashes and these can take some time to heal and can be very sore and itchy, you especially don’t want to inhale these hairs or have them get into your eyes. Rubber gloves are a must as you don’t want any of these hairs to come into contact with your skin.
Cutting the Nests from the Pine Trees
Making the Place safe for dogs
Information on the web suggests that if you have an infestation of these nests near you to contact the Guardia Civil, who will arrange for their removal, but the resources that they and the local Ajuntamenta have are extremely limited and often nothing is done.
Opinions differ as to whether you should remove the nests yourselves but we really can’t risk the health of our dog as he is a much loved family pet and to us irreplaceable. Because these caterpillars are so dangerous to dogs we therefore feel that we have to go out and remove as many of their nests so as to remove as much risk as we possibly can and we know we are not alone as other pet owners do the same for the same reasons.
Trying to make our part of the world a safer place
I hope you enjoyed the photographs of our attempts to make our part of the world a little safer for the dogs of our area.
Insect based Hubs
If you enjoyed this Hub you might like my other insect based Hubs.
- The Life Cycle of the Dragonfly - In this hub I want to look at the life cycle of the Dragonfly and I suppose that the best place to start is at the very beginning. This is where it all begins;
- The Cicada - The Cicada is a member of the order Homoptera and the noise that just one of these creatures can make is amazing. The name cicada actually comes from the Latin word for buzzer. It is the male of this species that makes the loud clicking and buzzing noise by vibrating membranes on their abdomens.
- The Caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth - In the area of Spain where I live there is a pesky little critter that is a real nuisance at this time of year it is the caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth.
More by this Author
Read all about the Cicada with lots of original photographs. There is a video of its predator the Cicada Killer Wasp with its prey. Also a video by David Attenborough of the life-cycle of the Cicada.
The life-cycle of the Dragonfly with photographs and video footage. An easy to read hub with lots of lovely photographs of these lovely insects. If you are a nature lover you will love this article.
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