Its scientific name is Thaumetopoea pityocampa, but it is known as the pine processionary caterpillar. Its last name is due to its characteristic martial step and the long line it makes together with other individuals of the same species. This parade takes place every year between March and April, coinciding with the rise in temperatures and after leaving the pine tree where the insects have spent their larval stage. This convoy looks for a place underground where they can remain, now as chrysalis, until the moment they emerge in summer as moths. Although the rows of caterpillars can be conspicuous, coming across one of them poses a health risk, especially for children and dogs. We are also talking about a plague, so experts ask to be alert.
Dermatitis, eye injuries, hives and even allergic reactions are some of the consequences of having minimal contact with processionary caterpillars due to the release of histamine. "It is not even necessary to have direct contact with the caterpillars since, when they feel threatened, they throw their hair into the air, which causes irritation and allergies, especially if they reach, for example, the eyes," explains Jorge Galván, general director. of the National Association of Environmental Health Companies (ANECPLA).
Each specimen has about 500,000 poison darts in the form of villi called trichomes. It is enough for the caterpillar to feel the danger for it to throw the hairs that contain the thermolabile toxin thaumatopin.
The autonomous communities and municipalities most affected by the presence of this pest, since it is the insect that causes the most pine defoliation in Spain (it destroys the trees where it nests), parodically present campaigns to alert and combat the caterpillar. Widespread throughout the peninsula and the Balearic Islands, it is present both in forest areas and in parks, gardens and other recreational areas with the presence of pine trees. The curiosity that the rows of processionary can arouse in children, who are also prone to putting their hands to their mouths, requires extreme precautions.
The owners of pets, especially dogs, should be careful when they are near pine trees, advising in these cases the use of the leash, since contact with the caterpillar can cause death.
If a dog approaches to sniff the row of processionaries, the hairs of the caterpillars can get stuck or stuck in the area of contact (muzzle, tongue and paws are the most sensitive areas), prolonging the powerful inflammatory reaction. As they remember from ANECPLA, the main symptoms of contact with the caterpillar that dogs can manifest are swelling of the muzzle and head, intense itching in the affected parts and abundant salivation. In case of ingestion of the insect, the poison that can cause necrosis of the tongue and throat.
Even if we have not seen the dog approach a row of processionary caterpillars, we can suspect contact with the insect if our animal is restless, insistently touching its nose with its paws and salivating profusely. Within minutes, you will have swollen areas such as your tongue, and an hour later, breathing problems, fever, and seizures.
We must act quickly, as soon as we see contact or detect the first symptoms in the dog. We can relieve the animal by cleaning the affected area with hot water and soap, but never rubbing. And you have to go to a veterinarian urgently, since the dog could die within a maximum period of two hours.
According to the criteria of The Trust Project