Most bugs we find in our gardens are quite harmless, and have a huge number of benefits to our local ecosystem. However there are a few which are quite simply pests, the processionary is one of them.

A great lover of coniferous plants, this little caterpillar can cause all manner of problems for your trees and plants, as well as for your family and pets. Luckily there are some quite simple methods to get rid of them.

What is the processionary moth caterpillar?

Sometimes called the pine processionary caterpillar, this little furry caterpillar lives in, and on coniferous plants. You can recognise them quite easily through their colouring of black and red/orange and that they are covered in lots of stinging hairs. They can be found all across Europe, North Africa and the near East.

In around August time the processionary moth will begin to lay its eggs in little nests that look like little balls of raw cotton in the tree branches. After about a month the caterpillars are born, and over the next month grow the stinging hairs that are so recognisable. In the spring the caterpillars will make their way down to the ground to look for soft areas where they can transform into the adult moth.

How can it be dangerous to my family and pets?

The caterpillar doesn’t bite or sting humans or animals. The problem is if you come into contact with the protective hair they have all over their body. Especially if you get them in your ears, nose or throat. If you come into contact with one it is advised to go to the doctor as a precaution to make sure the reactions are under control and won’t cause more serious problems.

But by far the more dangerous is the potential allergic reaction you can have, that can cause difficulties breathing and a rash all over the body. This is also true with pets, who will be curious as to what they are and likely eat them. This will definitely mean a very urgent trip to the vets.

How can I get rid of this pest from my garden?

There are a few simple ways to get rid of the processionary from your garden, that you can do yourself.

You could make a plastic water trap around the trunk of the trees, so when they climb down to burrow in the ground they fall into the water. Or if they have already burrowed in, you can dig them up. Usually you can tell where they are because it will be near to the tree, with a little mound of removed earth.

If you are collecting them when they still have their spiky hairs, be sure to wear gloves or use tweezers to avoid any reactions. You can also remove the tree nests too if you are able to reach them .

There are also preventative measures you can take. A simple solution of soap and water sprayed onto plants will deter them from nesting there in the first place. They also really hate tobacco ash, or tobacco water from boiling some cigarettes sprayed sparingly onto the plants.

If you’re still having trouble, there are a few other things that may help. Encourage the processionary’s natural predators to your garden by introducing a bird bath or bird feeders. Bats, wasps and ants are all predators of this caterpillar too, so allow them to thrive (but perhaps not too much).

Ultimately you can always call an expert to deal with the problem if these things do not work, or you do not have the time to deal with it. But at least you know there are ways to get rid of them.

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