Dangerous Pine processionary caterpillars

15 Replies

The sun is out, and unfortunately so are this years crop of these deadly little creatures.Please keep your animals and children well away from them and stay well clear, (they can easily kill both animals and small children if eaten or their spines are inhaled, and will leave you with a hefty vet bill if your animals come into contact with the spines!).I have never yet found any advice about how to deal with them once they have left the tree, so devised this method myself.Firstly cover all of your body, including your airways before dealing with these dangerous creepy crawlies - I even wore a crash helmet!Boil up a good amount of sugar,water and the oil from the deep fat fryer (though any would do). Make sure it is scalding hot and sticky and pour over the caterpillars. They die very quickly and the spines stay put.I then sprayed them with hairspray, just to be sure, put gloves on and picked them up with a shovel and transferred them to a plastic bag.I then sprayed the ground with mild detergent and washed it all away with the hose under pressure, so that the dogs won't be attracted by the sugar.I've just found and destroyed 2 lines of them without incident or injury!Hope this helps some of you with this problem.

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micktr6 1300811551

I've never heard of these and as its our first spring/summr here in France would like some idea of what they look like and where they are likely to be lurking. I have 2 cats and don't want any harm to come to either of them. Thanks for the advice

fattart-116519 1300812355

Hello - My first advice to you would be to Google for the information - I have attached a link below to start you off. (youtube is also a good site).

They begin life in a nest in a pine tree. If you have any pines in the garden (also beware in the forests), look into the high branches for largish cotton wool type nests - if you see any, then you have to be alert for the caterpillars.

When they leave the nest, they follow a trail as they are blind and resemble a thin hairy snake - brown in colour. It is imperative that you do not allow your animals anywhere near them or their trail. Also, NEVER touch them yourself and avoid breathing in the hairs.
Even setting fire to them causes the spines to be cast into the air causing skin and breathing problems.

Please read up on them and warn any other newcomers of their existence.
As an aside, also be aware that ticks carry and pass on pirosplasmosis to our pets - get yours vaccinated!


Good luck and good reading!

backfromthegulag-111068 1300957951

You may be interested in this device for disposing of the caterpillars

marian 31 1300959383

as you say these caterpillers are very dangerous, we found . the best way to kill them is to remove the nest before they start to leave it, we connect a long lengh of tubing with a wire loop attatched to the top, then lasso the branch, twist pole it will tighten wire noose and cut the twig and nest off, then set fire to it we have removed several this way over the last few years and we find they dont seem to come back to that place the next year, this year we have only had one, hope this helps

fattart-116519 1300962622

Thanks for the link - We've actually improvised the same type of trap - but have found that a lot of them get blown from the trees. Forewarned is forearmed!

fattart-116519 1300962848

Marian 31.........Again, thanks for the advice and this might help many people with the same problem. Our trees however are much too high and the nests are impossible to reach...........hence our need to deal with the dangerous little critters when they are on the march.
Every posting on here with advice is likely to help someone though, so thanks again.

Hilltop-112287 1301515527

These caterpillars have only recently arrived in France, previously their range was confined to southern Europe and parts of Africa, it might be global warming or just the fact that they are spreading but, as relative newcomers, too few people are aware of the danger. If you can look past their lethal nature they are actually amazing creatures.

feed exclusively on pine needles, look for their nests in the branches of pine

almost every other species of caterpillar they are only active in the winter,
arriving in November and disappearing in April.

are nocturnal, feeding during the coldest part of the night.

are social animals, although they feed independently they co-operate to spin
‘cocoons’ of silk where a colony of up to 100 individuals hide during the day
(hence the name ‘Tent’ caterpillars).

they have exhausted the food supply in one tree they it leave to find another.
They cross open ground nose-to-tail, forming a ‘Procession’ (it’s believed they
do this to fool birds into thinking it’s a snake).

The cocoons can be the size of footballs and
have been described as ‘balls of dirty, white cotton wool’ or ‘white candy
floss’ festooned in the branches of pine trees.

caterpillars are black and orange (usual danger sign) and are covered in fine
hairs, it is these hairs that are deadly.... they contain a protein that can
kill a dog or small child and give an adult the rash from hell.

If you get the
dust from a nest in your eyes you will be blind for days... it’s like the very worst
form of conjuctivitus (I speak from bitter experience).

During the
day you are only likely to encounter these horrors on the ground when they are
looking for a new food source and have formed a ‘procession’; the other high-risk
period is when there has been a strong wind in the night – this will
occasionally blow the caterpillars out of the tree and onto the forest floor.
They soon die but the hairs remain potent for days.

dogs are curious by nature and attracted by movement, you can probably see
where this is heading. If they actually eat a caterpillar then I’m afraid their
chances are poor, our dog just licked a dead one and was sick for days.

symptoms were vomiting (a white slime), drooling, swollen tongue, staggers and finally
collapse. We took him to the vet immediately but all she could do was give him
a shot of morphine for the pain and hydrocortisone to reduce the swelling on
his tongue.

recovered but the tip of his tongue, the part that touched the caterpillar, necrotised,
turned green and finally fell off... we now have the only ‘frilly tongued’
Labrador in France.

aside, there are instances where the dog has lost it’s whole tongue and had to
be hand fed... when it survived at all.

If you see
a nest when out on a walk give the tree a wide berth (and maybe put your dog on
the leash if there’s been a strong wind). If you have a nest in or near your garden
the best thing to do is carefully cut the branch that is holding it and deposit
the branch, nest and all, into a black plastic sack and put the whole lot in
the dustbin.

Trying to
burn the nest or knock it out of the tree just releases lots of the hairs that
are trapped in the cocoon (watch your eyes) and causes the caterpillars to
‘abandon ship’ and drop down onto the ground – just where you don’t want them.

If you look
closely at a nest you may think it’s been abandoned; there will be lots of what
look like dead caterpillars caught up in the silk. But these are just the
discarded instars or ‘moults’, deep inside the cocoon there is a writhing mass
of living, toxic caterpillars just waiting to emerge at nightfall...

This is the
worst time of year… the caterpillars are as big - and as toxic - as they are
going to get (size does matter in this case), they have been feeding all winter
so about now they will have stripped their original tree and be looking for a
new home… and, of course, the spring gales are starting....

fattart-116519 1302088710

@ HILLTOP.......Thanks for such a comprehensive posting. I am sure that all of the information you have given will prove very helpful to anyone seeking advice about these dangerous little fella's! Let's hope that 'knowledge' will help to save a few of our animals. Thanks again. Suzanne

Chrispy-108529 1302099666

to all the destroyers----- cuckoos eat them!

fattart-116519 1302102501

Not fast enough though!!! I'm a vegetarian because of my respect for living creatures - but I have to weigh the security of my 2 dogs against the welfare of potentially deadly caterpillars......My dogs won the battle with my conscience!

backfromthegulag-111068 1302119141

I don't know about recently arrived . I've seen them for at least twenty years. The friend who gave me the link which I quoted in a previous post seems to be having great success with the eco piège much to his dog's relief.

fattart-116519 1302123283

@ backfromthegulag......Yes, I'm afraid I have to agree that they have been here for a long while. They have however been recently spotted in good old Angleterre - heaven help them!
And thanks again for the link you supplied regarding the traps........I think they're a great idea, and could certainly help many of us to deal with this 'problem' - but even with these traps, there is still a need to be vigilant if living anywhere near these pine trees (we can only apply the traps to our own trees!). Owners of animals and young children - BEWARE!!!

Mum23 1304850657


We moved to a rented house just north of Bergerac a month ago. We have a pine tree out the front of the house. It is away from where the kids play, and very high up.

It has a caterpillar nest in it, I hadn't realised it was a dangerous caterpillar nest. There is no way we can reach it.

I have told the kids not to touch caterpillars, as my husband had a nasty experience with hairy caterpillars when he was young.

What would be you your advice?

Big thanks for the heads up.


fattart-116519 1304851499

Hi there
If you read all of the previous posts, you'll see that there is very little one can do about them. The best form of defence is avoidance. Warn the children of the danger and keep an eye on any animals you might have.
Be aware that once they leave the tree, they can travel quite significant distances in order to locate ground soft enough for them to burrow into - this means they can literally turn up anywhere in your garden!! However, because they travel in a long train, nose to tail, they are quite easy to spot.
Someone on here posted this link - you might be interested, though we've improvised a similar thing costing a lot less!

Good luck and stay vigilant.

Mum23 1304866863

Thanks for your reply. I think I will just stay away, and make extra sure the kids do too.

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