Thaumetopoea Pityocampa: A Butterfly Caterpillar From Europe

Thaumetopoea pityocampa is a butterfly caterpillar that can cause serious problems for dogs if they get too close to it.
Thaumetopoea pityocampa: a butterfly caterpillar from Europe

When spring comes and the temperature rises, all kinds of worms and insects begin to appear. Among them we can find Thaumetopoea pityocampa, which is a butterfly caterpillar.

You will find this strange insect in the field, but also in parks and gardens in urban areas. In this article you will learn about these strange larvae and why they are  a serious danger to pets.

We will now get to know this creature better and what to do if we discover it.

Some facts about this particular butterfly caterpillar

Thaumetopoea pityocampa is a butterfly caterpillar belonging to the genus Lepidoptera that invades certain areas of the Iberian Peninsula every year. It lives in the forests of central and southern Europe and is considered a plague.

These larvae have black heads, black skin and a gray tone on the sides. They are covered with red hairs called trichomes and which carry poison. This is why they are dangerous to humans and pets, especially dogs.

These larvae have a strange behavior that causes them to form long lines and follow one and the same track. They come down from the trees where they have their nest and form a line that resembles a train.

This is where the butterfly caterpillar got its English name: “pine processionary caterpillar”.

thaumetopoea pityocampa in trees

When the time comes, they will bury themselves in the ground to get ready for the final stage of their development. A few months later, they come out as moths.

They live mainly in Mediterranean pines, but can also be found in spruce and cedar, among other places.

Thaumetopoea pityocampa: a dangerous butterfly caterpillar

Thaumetopoea pityocampal larvae are particularly dangerous to pets as they can cause allergies and rashes. When they feel threatened, they release their poisonous hair. Dogs are their main victims.

Each larva has about 500,000 hairs filled with a venom. These hairs act as needles that can inject the poison into your pet’s skin or mucous membranes.

Touching, approaching or smelling these larvae is enough to become infected. Doing so may cause irritation to the eyes, nose or throat. In rare cases, they can cause severe allergic reactions.

Professional pest controllers use physical, chemical and biological methods to get rid of these larvae. One of the most common methods is to burn their nests in September, October and November.

However, pheromone traps are often used for male animals. This prevents their reproduction and is a very effective method.

larvae in a row

How to know if a dog has been poisoned

It is quite easy for dogs to encounter one of these larvae during a leisurely stroll in the Mediterranean countries.

They are likely to try to approach them, especially young dogs, as they are more curious than older dogs.

They may try to smell them, lick them, try to eat them or just touch them with their noses. This is enough to provoke a reaction.

Signs that a dog has come in contact with a caterpillar like this can vary. The most common are:

  • Intense itching or hives
  • Swelling of the lips
  • Swelling of the tongue and excessive salivation

The dog also gets nervous and upset, and tries to scratch the mouth with the front legs.

Other symptoms of poisoning

The animal can get, for example, fever, diarrhea or become ill if it swallows the larva. The most important thing you should do is check your tongue. If affected, it will usually become inflamed and purple.

If a specialist does not provide treatment immediately, areas of necrosis and even tissue loss may occur.

Damage to the tongue can cause the dog to stop eating, with all the problems that this will cause. In more severe cases, facial or arrhythmic edema may occur, causing shortness of breath.

In addition, a fatal anaphylactic reaction may occur.

It is imperative to consult a specialist if there are signs that a dog has been poisoned by a Thaumetopoea pityocampa . As always, the best form of cure is prevention.

It is better to avoid walking the dogs in areas where there may be pines during the months of February, March and April, as this will minimize the risk of exposure.

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