15 March 2008

Processional Caterpillars in the woods


We were walking in the woods at the side of the house this morning looking at the cuttings we'd stuck in the ground to make a little hedge and checking out the vegetation to see if we can put our Angora goats back in there this week. A way in front, Fabrice noticed two lines of Processional Pine Moth Caterpillars or Thaumetopoea pityocampa (Chenille processionnaire in French) and shouted to warn me to take the dogs back up towards the house.

I did, which is complicated at the moment because Didi our little Dachshund is in season, but after spending a few minutes shutting the dogs up, I grabbed my camera and made my way back to the caterpillars to take some photographs.

Processional Caterpillars - this line was about 2.5 metres long.

These caterpillars start life in silk cocoon style nests in pine trees. They strip the trees of their needles, then leave to seek out another tree on which to feed. They're interesting to watch from mid-February until the end of April as they wind their way in lines up and down trees or along the ground.

The processions are always single-file head-to-tail and can be metres long. The caterpillars stay in line in part as a result of tactile stimulus from the hair-like sensory appendages on the abdomen of the caterpillar in front of it. Scientists believe a yet to be discovered pheromone probably plays a role too.

A French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre arranged these caterpillars into a complete circle around the edge of a flowerpot, so that there was no longer a leader caterpillar, and they followed each other around and around for seven days, in frost and heat, going nowhere with just the urge to follow leading them on and on.

You have to be very careful not to stand on them or disturb them because unfortunately those bristly hairs detach easily and float in the air and they can cause a severe allergic reaction and sometimes a potentially lethal reaction called Anaphylaxis in people and animals if they are touched, inhaled or eaten. Dogs and cats have been known to die or lose part of their tongue after eating them. There's more information on the caterpillars and photos of a dog with a damaged tongue in THIS blog. So if a person or animal shows signs of shock after contact with the caterpillars or after a walk in the woods at this time of the year, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.

Here's a little video I took of one of the lines of caterpillars which I uploaded to Youtube today:



9 comments:

detroit dog said...

Wow. This is really interesting. I read your post to my husband. I've never heard of these caterpillars; perhaps I should post about them. Are they native to France?

La Ferme de Sourrou said...

I thought they were just in the Mediterranean, and their move northwards was due to global warming but I've just discovered (thanks to Google) that they are in North America too and I've added the link where I found the information to the post.

Watch out for that link - I've just spent half an hour looking through some of the things in there - it's full of information and superb photographs. ;-)

detroit dog said...

Thank you!

Amy U. said...

What a fascinating post! Sometimes nature just blows me away. I guess the goats will have to wait for their turn out there, too?

Playing in the Dirt

The Unusually Unusual Farmchick said...

I've got another fiction or fact from Tammie's almanac to share thanks to you, hahaha.I will give you credit for the source :)- just like to spout those little things out when in the midst of uncomfortable dinner silence...

Kane said...

We currently live in Southern Spain and our dog fell Victim to the creatures. His tounge went from black, purple, yellow, white and finally lost part of his tongue 4 days later. He had to relearn how to eat and drink. He's doing great one year later. BEWARE!!!!!

La Ferme de Sourrou said...

Thankfully, he's recovered but it must have been very uncomfortable for him for some time.

Yep - as you say - Beware !

Alan said...

I found some in my garden near Toulouse the other day, my first thought when I saw them was that it was a snake! Could this be a reason for their action? If I was fooled for a moment maybe birds are too.

La Ferme de Sourrou said...

It could well be Alan, nature is strange eh?

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