From May to June the Oak Processionary Moth is in the larval stage of its life-cycle, which means it is currently a hungry caterpillar! However, unlike the friendly children’s character, this particular beasty makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.
This spikey looking creature lives almost exclusively on Oak trees in London and the South - East of England. They are quite unique in their appearance with long white hairs interspersed among shorter hairs - giving them their spikey look (photos here). They crawl along the ground and up tree trunks in lines, nose to tail, then cluster together and build white, silky looking nests in the branches or on the trunk of the tree.
The reason that they have made headlines recently is that as interesting as they look, they can be dangerous to pets and people. The hairs on their backs contain a substance that is toxic. Dogs often investigate the strange looking creatures with their nose and mouth, and if they have sniffed or licked a caterpillar you may see some of the following signs:
● A lot of drooling
● Swelling of their nose, lips or tongue (or any area the caterpillar has touched)
● Red and irritated looking skin
● Irritation around their eyes
● Difficulty breathing
If you think that your pet has come into contact with one of these caterpillars, or if they are showing any of the signs above it is important to contact your vet immediately.
The best thing that you can do as an owner is to keep your pet away from these creepy caterpillars and their nests if you see them. It is important to remember that these caterpillars can be toxic to people too, so it is not recommended to try and go near a nest or caterpillar, and definitely do not try and move them!