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.
Chenilles processionnaires dans le Gers aujourd'hui— Evy-dame-en (@Eve7732) December 23, 2022
3 jours à 18° et elles vadrouillent pic.twitter.com/HFvMZK6pvW
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.
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