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The Nasty Caterpillars of Southern France

March 9th, 2018 · No Comments · France

Well, in theory, they could be killers. But they are more likely to make your dog or cat sick.


Processionary caterpillars, they are called.

They are some nasty customers who live here in the south of France, and in southern Europe, in general.

They are destructive to pine trees, where they spend much of their lives eating pine needles, but that is only part of the problem.

After they develop into caterpillars, the bugs wriggle down out of their pine aeries and look for a place to bury themselves — until they emerge as moths a year or three later.

During the slow process of moving, the caterpillars reduce their predator risk by developing, according to the Wildlife in France website, “irritant hairs [which] contain a highly allergenic protein which in humans can cause reactions ranging from mild itching to anaphylactic shock”. And anaphylactic shock can be fatal.

Pets, particularly dogs, seem interested in the processionary caterpillars (so-called because they travel nose-to-“tail” while moving) and canines can come in contact, via their paws, with the caterpillar hairs and then transfer the allergen to their tongues. That is potentially fatal.

The expats in this part of France tend to come from areas without processionary caterpillars, and often seem quite alarmed at the concept. There is quite a bit of discussion about them, certainly.

Some expats remove pine trees from their property, forcing the bugs to develop somewhere else; some muzzle their dogs during “caterpillar moving season”, which tends to be in winter or early spring.

(I have seen processional caterpillars only once, in the next village over, so it is not as if they are coming down the street where we live.)

Another issue: the caterpillars spend their time in pine trees in nets they have created that can be home to hundreds of individuals — which is creepy, yes.

The caterpillars/moths have some natural enemies, thank goodness, mostly birds and bats.

Here’s hoping for hungry bats.



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