Spain, with its diverse ecosystems and rich biodiversity, is home to a variety of fascinating creatures. Among them, processionary caterpillars stand out due to their unique behaviour and potential dangers.
In this article, we will look at the life cycle of processionary caterpillars, exploring their habits, habitats, and the risks they pose to both flora and fauna.
The life cycle of processionary caterpillars
The journey of processionary caterpillars begins when adult female moths lay their eggs in the branches of host trees, such as pine, cedar, and oak. The eggs are laid in clusters, resembling small, frothy masses.
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge and form silken nests (that look like candyfloss) around them. These nests serve as protective shelters during the larval stage, where the caterpillars feed on the leaves of the host tree.
After completing their feeding phase, the caterpillars enter the pupal stage. They leave their nests and burrow into the soil to undergo metamorphosis. This stage can last several weeks or even months, depending on environmental conditions.
The adult moths emerge from the pupae and the cycle repeats as they lay eggs, continuing the fascinating life cycle of processionary caterpillars.
One of the most captivating aspects of processionary caterpillars is their distinctive behaviour during the larval stage. They are known for moving in long, single-file processions, hence their name. The caterpillars follow a leader, forming a line that resembles a procession – a behaviour believed to enhance their chances of finding food and shelter.
Dangers posed by processionary caterpillars
While the processionary caterpillars play a crucial role in the ecosystem by serving as a food source for birds and other predators, they also pose significant dangers to humans, animals, and the environment.
The caterpillars are covered in tiny, barbed hairs that contain a protein called thaumetopein. Contact with these hairs can cause skin irritation, rashes, and, in severe cases, allergic reactions.
Defoliation of trees
The feeding habits of processionary caterpillars can lead to the defoliation of trees, causing harm to the affected vegetation. This can be particularly concerning in forested areas, impacting the overall health of ecosystems.
Dangers to pets
Dogs and other curious animals are at risk of coming into contact with processionary caterpillars. Ingesting or even sniffing these caterpillars can result in serious health issues, or even death for pets.
What can you do if you have these trees in your garden?
To safeguard your surroundings from the potential hazards of processionary caterpillars, considering professional tree treatment is a proactive measure. Arborists and pest control experts can apply targeted solutions to the host trees, preventing these voracious insects from causing extensive defoliation. Treatment methods may include specialised pesticides or biological controls that disrupt the life cycle of the caterpillars.