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Toxic processionary caterpillars appear early in south France

The higher-than-average seasonal temperatures have caused the insects to appear two months early, presenting a danger to pets and humans

A close up photo of processionary caterpillars travelling in a line

The caterpillars can be seen travelling along the ground in a ‘procession’, hence their name Pic: Gonzalo Jara / Shutterstock

Toxic processionary caterpillars have been spotted in France this winter due to temperatures rising above the normal seasonal averages.

The poisonous caterpillars – called chenilles processionnaires du pin in French – usually begin to appear at the end of February.

However, in Tarn and much of the Occitanie region, the caterpillars have already started appearing two months early. Pest control experts have said that they have never seen the caterpillars so early in the season.

Anthony Carlier, who is based in Senouillac (Tarn), told France 3 that his work usually slows down considerably in December. However, this year, he has been busy for the past three weeks.

He said: “I’ve never seen that. Processionary caterpillars in December! For several days people have been calling me to come and destroy the nests. At the moment they’re everywhere.”

He said that the early appearance was due to higher-then-average temperatures for the season.

Processionary caterpillars can be a major irritant for humans and toxic (even fatal) for pets. They have small hairs on their body, which can cause a rash and respiratory issues.

They make their nests, or cocoons, in trees. These tend to look like balls of cotton wool or candy floss. However, the caterpillars themselves are often seen travelling along the ground, in long ‘processionary’ lines, hence their name.

If animals eat them off the floor or the bark of a tree, they can suffer from necrosis of the tongue, which can be fatal.

Read more: What to do if your pet is hurt by processionary caterpillars in France 

Homeowners who see the caterpillars on the ground are therefore encouraged to call in pest controllers to get rid of them.

Mr Carlier said: "The only predator capable of eliminating these insects is the chaffinch. But that's not enough. When we intervene, we burn the cocoons. 

“But while waiting for an intervention, I advise that you do not touch the caterpillars, do not hang your washing to dry near a nest, and – most importantly – do not let your pets out.”

The caterpillars are not the only insects to have benefitted from the warm weather. Mosquitoes have also begun to appear early, said France 3.

Related articles 

Processionary caterpillars now officially a harmful species in France
Two types of processionary caterpillars gaining ground in France
Toxic processionary caterpillars in France already 

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