Dog Travel Blog

Real life experience of travel with dogs and Pet Passports in France

What about those Processionary Caterpillars?


Well, we saw none! However, the first and only place we saw warning signs about them was in the Aveyron department of the Midi Pyrenees region around the Gorges du Tarn. And, funnily enough, while in the Gorges du Tarn, we noticed cocoon like structures hanging from the branches of pine trees. These, we are sure, will have housed the caterpillars in the winter months from where they move in and out to forage for food.

The warning notices were annoyingly faded so we could barely make out the information. But the general advice was to stay away from these caterpillars at all costs and not to walk in the woods on windy days! Presumably the cocoons could fall down and the caterpillars would be at large once again. This activity, it seems, takes place largely between October and March. By April, they have moved down from the nests in the trees to find homes in the soil where they become moths.

So, they are not a myth. They do exist. Be warned! Pine forests seem to be the main problem areas and we do believe that they are a particular problem in the southern regions of France.

Processionary Caterpillar Nest.  We saw lots like this in the Gorges du Tarn along with warning signs.

Processionary Caterpillar nest (empty we think). We saw lots like this in the Gorges du Tarn along with warning signs.


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17 Responses to “What about those Processionary Caterpillars?”

  1. They are a huge problem in the South of France and Spain – even in the centre of towns and cities, though town councils try and eliminate them as much as possible.

    Lots of dogs die or lose part of their tongues during caterpillar roaming season and kids get taken to hospital every year after handling the cateprillars.

    The problem with wind is that it can spread the poisonous hairs from the caterpillars and this affects the breathing of sensitive people – elderly/kids/asthmatics

    There are some photos of the caterpillars and differnt stages of nests on my blog if you are interested

  2. Editor says:

    Hi Alison. Great article on your blog – can you confirm what time of year is the problem period?

    Thanks for the comment. I hoped to build it up with interesting comments like this to help others.

  3. Brian says:

    Hi just seen this article. Its a big problem here in Spain,one of our dogs lost part of his tongue this year and we got her to the vets within 2 hrs of trying to eat a caterpillar.
    Nests are formed in the Autumn but most dangerous time is late January to April when the caterpillars leave the nest each day to look for food and when they finally leave in a long line (hence the name processionary) and burrow into the ground to pupate.
    They are extremely dangerous to humans also and can cause severe skin rashes and alergic reactions similar to bee stings.The general advice is if you see a nest dont go near it.
    If you have trees with nests seek professional help although when they first appear they can be carefully removed by cutting off the branch and burning and or dousing in bleach and disposing of with refuse.
    Lots of info can be found on the net ,eg this site;

  4. Editor says:

    Great update from Brian and thanks for the site info

  5. J Wilson says:

    our campsite had sprayed this year to get rid of a different caterpillar which seemed to be connected with oak trees. Again it was the hairs which are dangerous.
    Again – this would be interesting to see all this information compiled together. You certainly wouldnt want to be anywhere near these things or to take a dog near them.

  6. Lynn Norton says:

    Hello there
    We are taking our dog to the Limousin next June/July 2012 and staying at a campsite on the Dordogne River. Do you think they may have a catapillar problem there?

  7. Raquel says:

    Awful animals they are, the processionary caterpillars.
    Back in Portugal we had a lot of pine trees in my school, and every year, around Easter time, those nasty creatures would start getting down the nests and walk all over the school.
    A lot of students had to go to the hospital because of their poison (I remember I would get my eyes red and swallowed just by looking at them) before the school director decided to do something about it… So he finally decided to cut down all the pine trees, planting other kind of trees instead, and we never saw a processionary caterpillars in the school again! 🙂

  8. H.G.Rofner says:

    Hi, can you please tell me if there any obvious signs when the Prosessionary Caterpillar have left there Cocoons; the cacoons look dirty brown and holes have appeard in the cacoon wich looks like a face of a gost, lots of the brown needles are almost ready to drop, a very ugly site,
    as there 2 large Trees in the back garden with lots of nsts on them
    I am very worried about my young cat as playing with anything that moves very exiting.
    Also how long after a caterpillar has died are there hair still toxic?

  9. sarah winning says:

    we’re planning a a trip through france germany spain and portugal. One of our dogs is very inquisitive so obviously we’re very concerned about him chasing caterpillers and scolopadras.
    What should we do if they are stung poisoned by either. We have decided that when we stop somewhere we need to know where the nearby vet is but what else can we do?
    Advice woiuld be much appreciated

    • Editor says:

      Hmmm, when in doubt I guess keeping your dog on a lead is the only way to be sure. That way you can control where that inquisitive nose is sticking itself! That’s what we tend to do with our dogs. Happy travels.

  10. Helen says:

    To all who come across these, be warned from my story. We had taken Matisse to compete in France at the Belgian specialty in 2007. He did so well and we were very proud. We noticed the silk threads and the caterpillars hanging and did our best top avoid them. Sadly despite our best efforts one or two of the hairs must have floated into the water and he became sick. Initially he went off food, our local vets kept him for 2 weeks and did all sorts of tests before they decided that a hospital was required. An MRI showed a small hollow tube from his throat in to the chest area. When he was stable they operated.only to find most of his chest wall black and dissolved. Matisse lost his battle to live. They contain necro and neuro toxins. and they are a killer

  11. Judith cartwright says:

    We often get these caterpillars in our house down by the river in Charante we ve been told they fire the hairs out of the back end so you have to approach them from the front ???!

  12. Andrea Prophet says:

    Is there a map showing the areas most affected in France and Germany in particular by the proccessionary catapillars? Do we need to tick treat our two dogs as well as using a scalibor collar. Possibly also a map or just info on areas affected by Leishmaniosis, which is transmitted by sand flies, I understand and is capable of affecting humans as well.

  13. auntysheila says:

    We had 40 beautiful pine trees lining our drive in Southern Italy until our gardener pointed out not just one but dozens in each tree of these nests …. they were mortified and wouldn’t not go near and we were told that they had to be reported and dealt with by the authorities … and i’m convinced they were the caused our beautiful weimaraner dog of only 18 months to die of cancer of the mouth … please please every one be aware …

  14. Tina says:

    please be aware….. always look out for the pine tree but my pup got too close to a palm tree and one moment she is fine next moment she is in thralls of pain i was horrified because i had no idea of these and when i found emergency vet it was translated that it wAS THIS catepillar i thought how insane? well my little yorki puppy just 4 months old almost died and she did lose the edge of her tongue we were in leucate plage area… so yes south of france

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