‘What I learnt about processionary caterpillars in my French garden’

A move to France meant this insect specialist could study the harmful bug in his own back garden

processionary caterpillar
‘They are hairy, but these are simply guard hairs to deter parasitic insects laying eggs’

As a specialist in lepidoptera, your article on processionary caterpillars was of particular interest.

Read more: Processionary caterpillars now officially a harmful species in France

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When I first came across them after moving to France, I rooted inside a nest to extract specimens to breed through to adults.

Over the years, I have learned much more about them.

Barbed projectiles are defence

Look closely and you will see that they are hairy, but these are simply guard hairs to deter parasitic insects from laying eggs.

More dangerous is what they project at a presumed predator – not hairs, in my view, but tiny barbed ampoules.

If these stick in your skin, the barbs prevent them being pulled out again.

Moreover, since they are ampoules, not just barbs, scratching breaks them open, releasing the urticating protein they contain.

Keep children and pets away

For me, they have never gone beyond causing itching, but for susceptible people they cause swelling, irritation and can lead to respiratory problems and, in exceptionally severe cases, anaphylactic shock.

Be careful that children do not get them in their eyes.

Be very careful with pet dogs too. Licking them risks necrosis of the tongue, which cannot be cured. They have to be put down.

Yes, they “pose a threat” but, like hornets, if you do not mess with them, they will not mess with you.

If you have nests in your garden, a simple solution is to carefully cut them off and destroy them.

Terence HOLLINGWORTH, Haute-Garonne

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