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Black Caterpillars


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Earlier today in the fields I saw a groups of small black caterpillars. There must have been 10 or more, all black and about 2cm long. They were all on what looked a bit like a spiders web (fine silky transparent’ish sheet) that was a couple of sq ins lying over the grass. They had clearly departed from this as some of the leaves of a weed nearby (only an inch or so away) were eaten.

After such a lousy description, does anybody have any idea what they might be.

(I will try and return tomorrow and see if I can get a picture – and then master the really hard bit of posting it here).

Ian

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If they were hairy then they could possibly be Processionary Caterpillers.  Were they 'walking' along in a line?

If they are these, then they are DANGEROUS, especially to dogs/cats but will also harm us too.  If threatened they shake off their hairs which are highly irritant - you would not want to get them in your eyes.  They can kill a small animal.  I don't mean to sound alarmist but they really are nasty little bu***rs! AFAIK they nest in pine trees in coccoon-like spider web type nests.

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Went out looking for them again this morning but could not find them (does not mean they gone, just I cant find them in the field).

They were hairy. However, they were not in a line but were all in a tight’ish group on this silky like small sheet. Must have been around 10 on this thing that was only a few sq inches (though this is from memory and things can always seem bigger, more of them, etc. when you think back).

Ian

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[quote user="Deimos"]Went out looking for them again this morning but could not find them (does not mean they gone, just I cant find them in the field).

They were hairy. However, they were not in a line but were all in a tight’ish group on this silky like small sheet. Must have been around 10 on this thing that was only a few sq inches (though this is from memory and things can always seem bigger, more of them, etc. when you think back).

Ian[/quote]
I'VE SEEN THEM TOO!!!

All together on the ground in a group of about 15 or 20.

Hairy, black with a trace of reddish-brown in the "joints". They've gone now... but they looked like this one

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That’s the one – except mine did not have quite such obvious yellow’y ringe round their bodies (in fact I did not notice any yellow’ish rings but that could have been the angle I was viewing them from.

Ian

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Last year I saw my neighbour following a "procession" of about 20 of these horrible monsters with a can of lighter petrol and a box of matches.  I asked him what he was doing[*-)] and he told me that hes going to set fire to the lot of them and that if in the future I saw any I should do the same.  They are extremely toxic and you should not touch them.  Apparently they are very destructive to plants as well as small animals.
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One or two were eating and had eaten leaver nearby (very nearby) – but they were weeds in the field so that did not worry me too much. Not too important but it didn’t look like they’d been eating the grass.

Found them again (bit its now raining so I’m not taking my phone/camera out). Smaller than I remembered (less the 2 cm). Also more than I thought 20+. All still in a group. Also do have the yellow rings and are the same as the ones in Clair’s picture.

Ian

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Now that we've established that we're all talking 'bout the same dangerous insects can I be silly now and say

 "Imagine if you can, Ian with his umbrella standing in the middle of a field somewhere in France prodding caterpillars"[Www]

 

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I put a large peice on an earlier thread about the pine processionary caterpillars. Have a look at this site  http://web.cortland.edu/fitzgerald/PineProcessionary.html . Also trype in 'pne processionary' on google and you can see lots about the little buggers!!!

Not far from us is the Consiel General building for the Aude, a huge place nicknamed le Grand Bateux because it looks like a HUGE ship's bridge. There are a number of pine trees within stone throwing distance that are lousy with the 'cocoons' of these horrible things. The trees have been stripped and why the Consiel have let this go is beyond our belief? They are lethal to dogs and cause them to die with gangrenous mouths. Apparently they emit a scent that encourages the dogs to try to eat them and if that happens then you have to be off to the vets PDQ to save them. We have had 2 lots of them coming over from our garden wall even though I thought that I had found and destroyed all of the cocoons in the garden. They were burned on our big BBQ in the summer kitchen! They are also VERY dangerous to certain types of heart complaints...

They also cause 10s of thousands of €s of damage to the pine trees and the French govt are 'supposed' to be waging war on them. One 'Marie' even suggested shooting them. What a sight, French gunmen stalking caterpillars? No not the caterpillars, but the cocoons, but what happens to the debris from the BLAST. It is just as dangerous as the caterpillars and you don't know where is is????

They are starting to move from the trees onto the ground to find soft earth to pupate in. When the moths emerge they look for trees to lay their eggs in, but they are not good fliers and can't get much above 6 feet or so, so if the branches are cropped well above that they can't reach them to lay. If they lay then look at that web site and if you see the 'egg sacks' then remove them and crush them. From there they emerge and work their way higher up the tree until they are near on impossible to reach to cut down. So the earlier you see them the easier it is. That is from personal experience!

There is a boat load of info from the google links, so have a look and learn,,, please!

John.

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Here in La Baule the Marie spray the pine trees each year, but we still had over twenty nests in each tree this year!    Unaware of what they did, last year we tried to shovel them up!!!!   Only to end up with an horrendous rash around my neck for almost three weeks!  The doc knew straight away what it was.   You are not supposed to shoot the nests, but many french people do but that is only effective during really cold weather.   This year we paid a company to come along and cut them all down.  Its the only safe way and ensures over a period of years that there will be less and less.

Starting to itch just thinking of them!!!

Lollie

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I find this thread very interesting and would find it helpful to run it on where you guys in france could make us more naive annual visitors more aware of other nasties luking about.  I have never seen these caterpillars before and would have let my children play with them.
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Just taken the dogs out again and thought I would go and “admire my handiwork” and s**t, they recovered quickly. Blowtorch this morning -> scorched earth and a few hours later like nothing had happened. A more detailed search and found a further 2 “nests”.

Nearest conifers are a line of Leylandii (sic ?) but to get to their latest “nest sites” from those they’d have to cross a stream. Don’t know if they can manage in Leylandii ? Otherwise no conifers around.

Had a check in the Leylandii lower branches and no sign of any of the silky nest stuff.

Ian

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I strongly suspect that you are killing the wrong thing Ian!!

The spun nests are always in pine trees and always high up, if you see one you will instantly recognise it. Have a good look at the photos of them available on the "Net".

Oh, and they eat pine needles, nothing else.

Chris

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I had a good search before destroying them and the silky sheet they are on looks pretty identical to the “nests” on the web (though mine were on the ground and much thinner – maybe a thin sheet a couple of inches square). Also, the caterpillars look the same (without a very detailed classification type inspection).

I wondered for quite some time about them, but as they were in a part of the field the dog run around in a lot (and dogs cannot easily be kept out of there) and given the risk to the dogs from them I felt it was probably not worth the risk.

I wonder if they were some closely related species that may also present some risk (or maybe I’m just trying to justify my killing them). I should emphasise that I generally don’t go around killing anything that I don’t know what it is – just on this occasion potential risk to dog was too great – there are a few “horror stories” about them and dogs I found on the web .

What was interesting was that all 3 “nests” were in patches of dry coarse grass and not the nearby greener thicker growth. They were pretty obvious (in that I saw them pretty easily) and were thus in clear view of any passing bird – so I wonder if birds were no risk to them.

Ian

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The reality is that there are a vast number of caterpillars that use spun nets to protect themselves from predation, sort of logical really, but if these were doing this on the ground or on vegetation other than high in pine trees, they are something else. The processional Caterpillar is specific in its food source, which is a blessing really and although there are other caterpillars which can cause skin reactions, none of them are more than irritating, they all have bristles, but not all caterpillars with bristles irritate.

Not to worry, you probably just cheated the birds from a tasty dish.  Chris

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Hi Ian, I don't know what you saw, but it isn't the dreaded pine processionarys. They don't  have their cocoons in Leylandie as Chris has said, only in certain type of pines (not sure exactly) but they are very particular. They don't build the cocoons in grass of any kind. If you are a masocist (?) then get one of the caterpilars and rub it on your forearm. If you don't get a horrible rash then they are probably not the pine processionary jobies. If you do then seek medical help!!!!!!!!

We walked our dog on the gaurigue this morning and saw another cocoon, but from what we have seen earlier the caterpillars MAY have already gone to ground to pupate, but they may not! We are being very careful for at least another few weeks yet, then we look out for the young vipers. Good 'ere init? The caterpillars wait till the weather warms and then come down from their trees in the long line that gave them their name and look for soft ground to bury themselves in to pupate.

Basically just keep a very good eye out and if you see a line of caterpillars, up to 300 long, but generally only a couple of dozen. Just keep clear of them. I found ours on the drive directly outside our gate. I carefully swept them into a plastic dustpan, lit out BBQ in the summer kitchen and burnt the 'bugerigars'. No qualms, they do a LOT of damage. You really should see the trees they attack!

John.

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I read on one of the links from the Google search that they have started (or always have) eating Cypress trees as well as their “traditional” pines, although the article did say that it was less usual. Also, one article was saying about how they seem far more widespread these days than they used to be.

The snakes do not worry me too much as they seems to generally avoid people and threats as much as possible (i.e. they seem to run away). Also, the dogs are generally to busy doing important stuff (like running fast) to notice much of what is on the ground. There was a dead mouse on a path then tend to run on quite a lot and they ignored it – just kept running past it paying no attention (or maybe at that speed its hard to notice/smell it). I tend to leave stuff like that around unless there is a good reason to remove it. Rightly or wrongly I don’t try to clean up natural things in the countryside (only man made waste).

Ian

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