Wednesday 16 March 2011

Coucou & caterpillars

We first heard the coucou on Monday and since then it has settled into its stride, calling regularly and together with the cowslips a mark that Spring is really here. The skylarks are also very vocal at present. If we are very lucky we see them occasionally as minute specks in the sky.

We have beasties called processionary caterpillars in our Pine trees and their nests look like white cotton candy. Once they reach their final caterpillar stage they troop down from the tree in a long, long line nose to tail (hence name) to find some damp earth to burrow into, after which they emerge as a nocturnal moth. We know that they are very much to be avoided. What we hadn't checked was when exactly they process. It turns out any time between January and April depending on where you live; the further south the earlier. 

caterpillars;   photo:
Their defence mechanism is to discharge tiny, almost invisible, fibreglass-like hairs which are poisonous--they cause urticaria [or a more severe allergic reaction if you're unlucky].....
Cats and dogs suffer if they get the hairs into their mouths/noses or on paws and then lick them. The hairs can cause vomiting, drooling, itching, swelling tongue and white spots [little ulcers] in mouth/on tongue. The worst case scenario is quite horrid, if your pet eats some of these fuzzies it can easily be fatal.

Katinka, being a young cat, is insatiably curious and will investigate even the smallest of wiggles or movements. Shadow, older, is much more sensible.

Tinka was sick yesterday morning--she threw up fresh cat food and again later in the afternoon a bit of bile. We wondered at the cause--the night before we'd seen a large-ish toad on the drive and perhaps she'd tried a bite of him.

Some time after Tinka had been sick the 1st time Niall spotted a chain of processionaries not far from the back door--exactly where our cats sit on a low wall having gone out via the catflap.  It wasn't a long chain but they had obviously come down from one of pine trees and found the soft earth behind the low wall perfect for burrowing.

Under the motto 'better late than never' we then washed her paws under a running tap and checked her mouth/tongue --she is amazingly tolerant of such things.

There were few enough caterpillars that zapping them with ant/roach spray was an option. It worked a treat--we stood upwind from them, there was no defensive reaction from the caterpillars and it was effective in seconds. We've since found out that it is best to have the nests sprayed in November--this breaks the life cycle so it has gone on the to do list in red pen. 

Meanwhile we've kept a careful eye on Tinka but all mouth inspections show no ulceration and what little redness of her tongue there was has receded. She just shakes front paw right occasionally so probably it is a bit affected. Her appetite is back so, all in all, it she seems she got off pretty lightly.


Jean said...

We encountered these creepy-crawlies last March behind the chateau and think Lulu had a sniff at them as she was sick and crying with pain for a while. Luckily she recovered quickly and was better the next day. We didn't know at the time that the caterpillars might be the cause but forwarned is forarmed.

GaynorB said...

I've only ever seen photographs of these caterpillars, but I'll certainly look out for them. I can see it is real a worry for animal owners though.
Hope Tinky has learned to avoid them!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jean: Luckly Lulu, she got off lightly as well.
For some reason we'd assumed they'd process in the summer. If Niall hadn't spotted them we'd have not put 2 and 2 together.

@Gaynor: Tinky is fine and back to her usual self. Hopefully she has now learnt to be wary if she encounters them a next time.

Tim said...

!lad to hear that she is recovering!!