The larvae of the oak processionary moth are a health hazard. Strictly speaking, it is the stinging hairs of the caterpillars. These break off easily and contain a toxin that can cause allergic reactions. This is how you protect yourself.
Actually, the caterpillars of the oak processionary moth are interesting to look at, especially when countless animals with long hair hold an impressive procession over the tree trunks close together. Nevertheless, one should simply not get too close to the animals, because the stinging hairs of the caterpillars, which break off easily and fall from the tree onto walkers, cyclists or resting people, are a health hazard. They can cause allergic skin reactions, eye irritation, cough, sore throat and fever. Therefore, areas where the oak processionary moth is active should be avoided as completely as possible.
How do I react if I have had contact?
The NRW Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture advises changing clothes immediately and removing stinging hairs on the skin using a piece of adhesive tape. Also shower and wash your hair. If eyes are affected, rinse them out. Anyone experiencing severe symptoms should seek medical attention.
According to the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU), affected clothing should be washed at at least 60 degrees to destroy the nettle toxin in the hair. Caution: The hair can also stick to shoes for a long time and can trigger reactions again and again.
How do I deal with a caterpillar infestation in my own garden?
You should definitely commission special companies to vacuum the nests of webs. The NRW Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture also advises this. This can be pest control, for example, in some places the fire brigade also helps. NABU recommends sucking off the animals instead of flaming them. The latter could injure the trees and whirl the stinging hairs around.
When is the danger over?
Even if the caterpillars are removed, the health risk for humans remains. The remaining nests of the caterpillars can be dangerous for a long time, since they contain fallen hair and shed larval skins.
You should also take signs with information about an infestation, which can be found in some places in forests, seriously: According to the Bavarian State Office for Forests and Forestry, the hair can remain in the area for several years and accumulate in the undergrowth or in the ground cover .
But: Not all webs found in trees and bushes in spring and summer belong to oak processionary moths. As their name suggests, they are mainly found on oaks, sometimes also on hornbeams. If it is a question of other trees, these can also be the structures of the harmless spider moth.
The size of the infestation can also be an indication: According to NABU, the webs of oak processionary moths are often only in one or a few places in the tree. If whole bushes and trees are spun in, they are more likely to be spider moths.