Category Archives: Nature Notes

Dangers of Pine Processionary Caterpillars

When in Spain many people may wonder about scorpions, spiders and venomous snakes and will not be aware that they are much more likely to endanger themselves and their pets by getting too close to an innocent looking line of caterpillars that can be found crossing a pavement, road or footpath during the first months of each year. So, what are the dangers of Pine Processionary Caterpillars?

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

The pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) will, during late winter/early spring, be coming out of pine trees and forming conspicuous snake-like lines. They will not be far from a pine tree, but that does not mean that you will only see them in large pine woods, they are just as likely to be found in villages and road side plantings in fact wherever pine trees are present. One of the first signs to be aware of is their white silken nests attached to a branch tip, these become most obvious around December to March. (These caterpillars are known as ‘procesionaria del pino’ in Spanish)

As a moth it has no means of causing us harm, it is only during the development as a caterpillar that you need to be cautious of this small creature. The moths seek out pine trees in the warm summer nights, lay clusters of eggs on the pine needles and so the process begins. There are 5 instars or growth stages to these caterpillars, where they gorge on pine needles, shed their skins and double in size. This growth occurs during the winter when they disperse through the tree at night to feed, thereby avoiding predation, and collect in communal nests by day to increase their warmth and ability to digest. Note that the white candyfloss like nests are cleverly positioned for maximum sunshine. By February these nests can be looking a bit dishevelled, this is because a nest may hold around 300 caterpillars and with no single entrance hole they push their way through the layers, the green bits collecting at the base and falling to the ground beneath are excrement.

The time for them to leave the nest in preparation for the next part of their lifecycle varies with temperature, spanning from January in warmer areas to April in the cool of the mountains, with a few even falling from the trees during windy weather. It is as they leave the trees that most people and pets come into contact with the caterpillars, sometimes with very painful consequences. They are the only caterpillar here to form a long chain, touching nose to tail. This snake-like procession is a real giveaway as to their identity. The line may stretch for a metre or two but if disturbed there could be several smaller groups and scattered individuals. (Each being around 3 to 4cm long). They have gone through a long feeding phase and will now search for a suitable place to burrow underground where they will undergo major changes, from caterpillar through to a moth – without nourishment.

Tours in Andalucia from Viator

Andalucia has a vast array of sites to visit and enjoy. Below are some of the options listed on the Viator website. (We recieve a small commission if you book a tour which doesn’t cost you more and helps us to keep Wildside Holidays up to date with the best information.)


Dangers to humans and pets

The danger that they pose to humans and animals is a very simple defence mechanism designed to stop them from becoming a meal themselves. Each caterpillar is covered with tiny barbed hairs, it is these which do us harm. They are constantly being dropped throughout its time as a caterpillar. They are too tiny to see, but cover the branches of the tree where the creatures have been feasting and of course the nests are loaded with them. They are even in the air around a heavily infested tree.

Direct contact with the Processionary Caterpillar colonies as they disperse can easily be avoided once you are aware of what to look out for. Inquisitive children, adults and pets must not get too close – it is even said that treading on them has lead to a reaction, as the hairs caught on your shoe can come into contact with your skin at a latter hour.

When humans come into contact with these hairs, they can cause reactions ranging from mild inflammation and irritation to severe anaphylactic shock. If the hairs contact your skin a rash soon forms which can be incredibly itchy, painful and lasts for as much as three weeks. The worst problems occur if you make contact with the caterpillar directly and ingest the hairs. If you get any reaction from contact with these insects medical advice should be sought.

Veterinary services have many emergency calls at the time when the caterpillars are migrating to the ground as dogs can get too close to the intriguing procession and may pick up the hairs onto their paws, these irritate and so they lick them. Once the hairs are on the lips/tongue it will induce itching, swelling and possibly vomiting. Look out for the symptoms of: small white spots in the mouth and on tongue, excessive drooling and chomping.  In some cases partial amputation of the tongue is the best course of action.

These pests which eat only pine needles, are found in warmer parts of Southern Europe, North Africa and across to the Near East. Milder winters are allowing these insects to expand into new areas, both into more northern latitudes and higher elevations. Their favored food tree is Black pine (Pinus nigra) followed by Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster), Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) and Stone Pine (Pinus pinea).

Under no circumstances should you try to handle the caterpillars or their nests.


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

https://grazalemaguide.com/

Impressive summer insects on the wing

There are many impressive flying insects on the wing during the summer months. Some due to their colours or intricate design and others are just large.

In this last category fall the Carpenter bee, the Hornet, the thread wasted and the Mammoth wasps.

Many people flap their arm in fear at these airborne creatures whereas standing still and observing them may be better practice, they are generally docile and quite attractive if viewed calmly. (Unless you are poking the hornets nest of course!)

The first Hornet activity this year out in the garden was in early spring. Several were actively hunting for bees which I would presume to be the newly hatched queens as all but the breeding hornets are vegetarian. They flew around the almond trees with heavily scented blossom and plucked honey bees out of the air.

They took the fresh prey to a nearby branch (gory bit – dissected and dropped the head) and devoured their meal. Hornets create a new hive each year from scratch, starting with a single queen.

Just click the Insect image title to read more about each insect over at the Grazalema Guide website.


Carpenter bees

Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la maderaCarpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la madera
Do not be alarmed by their size of up to 23mm, they are not aggressive and will simply go about their business of collecting nectar from flowers

imagine a bumble bee, double its size, paint it jet black in your mind’s eye and give it iridescent blue / violet wings. They are large, noisy, weigh down flowers with their bulk but can deftly avoid humans with their lumbered flight. If they enter the house it is usually to search for a suitable nest hole. They are solitary creatures and gained their common name due to their ability to make nest holes in dead would. Although they can do this they take the easier option of ready made holes in wood, metal, brick etc whenever possible.


The Mammoth wasp

Mammoth Wasp – (Megascolia (Regiscolia / maculata flavifrons) – Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.

A long black insect with two yellow stripes on the abdomen and a yellow face if female. This has a complicated lifecycle as the Mammoth wasp parasitizes a beetle larva. At the moment there are 6 or more flying around each large rotten tree stump in the garden. They all seem to be males and are probably waiting for the females to emerge. Later in the summer, when they have settled down they are much easier to observe feeding off flowers, with alliums being a favourite.


Thread-waisted wasp

Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)
Sceliphron spirifex are solitary wasps and are not aggressive, they do not sting unless mishandled. The sexes look very similar with the female being larger and with a visible sting.

Wasp like with yellow / black colours these creatures are also people friendly. They search out shaded, protected places to create their mud nests and the back of a picture frame seems an ideal choice. They carefully roll up a tiny ball of mud outside, fly with it into the house, deposit it, shape it and return with more tirelessly throughout the day. They produce a hollow tube and next to this they make another and another fanning the wet mud with their wings to assist the drying process.


Bees and wasps may receive bad press and cause unnecessary concern to many, especially as some of the species of Iberia can be rather large.

Hornets

Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.
Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.

Hornets were once common throughout Europe but are suffering decline due to the misconception that such a large wasp type creature would have a very dangerous sting. The fact is, they are no worse than a normal wasp sting, will again avoid human closeness and they have a fascinating life cycle.


We must not forget that this group are important pollinators of our crops. Also some wasps feed on caterpillars that may otherwise be a garden pest and flies do a necessary job of clearing up decaying matter.

Altogether they aid the biodiversity that is delicately balanced to a level beyond our perception.


The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/

Cutting wild flowers in Spain

Lets start by saying that Cutting wild flowers in Spain is illegal. Not only illegal, it is selfish and a very stupid thing to do.

Such a shame that a beautiful giant orchid that my children have been watching grow with fascination over the last few weeks has been cut and removed by someone who presumably wanted a “pretty flower” in a vase on their kitchen table. Sigh!

Just don’t do it people!

Read more about the Giant orchid and other orchids in Spain here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/orchids-in-spain/

Gian orchid in Spain
The Giant orchid flowers as early as January in Spain. This is the before picture.
Giant orchid with cut flower spike
The same giant orchid with the flower removed

If we could just fix the small ignorant and selfish things like cutting wild flowers in Spain that the human race does then imagine what the bigger picture would look like?


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Painting one turbine blade black reduces bird fatalities by 72%, says study

Sometimes the simplest solution is the most efficient!

Fascinating to hear that scientists in Norway have found that painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black reduces avian deaths by 72%.

In the paper, the scientists explain why birds are susceptible to flying into rotating turbine blades and why a single black blade helps them to perceive the rotor as an obstacle.

“Relative to humans, birds have a narrow binocular [eg, using both eyes to focus on one object] frontal field of view and likely use their monocular [using each eye independently] and high‐resolution lateral fields of view [ie, having eyes on opposite sides of their heads] for detecting predators, conspecifics [ie, birds of the same species], and prey,” the authors write.

“Within an assumed open airspace, birds may therefore not always perceive obstructions ahead, thereby enhancing the risk of collision. To reduce collision susceptibility, provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades, enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

It is thought that birds see the rotating white blades as a “motion smear” — the blur effect humans see when waving a hand quickly in front of their eyes — and do not perceive this blur as a moving object.

Painting one blade black is believed to create motion smear patterns that the bird perceives as a moving object, “as the frontal vision in birds may be more tuned for the direction of movement”.

Read the full article at Recharge….


Wildside Holidays – Spain

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