Peter Martin writes:
“Beware! Warm weather has encouraged caterpillars of the Oak Processionary moth to emerge from their eggs. Each caterpillar has around 63,000 hairs, some of which can be blown in clouds by the wind, causing serious irritation to the eyes, lungs and skin. In some circumstances, they could even kill by triggering asthmatic attacks and severe allergic reactions.
The caterpillars make white nests the size of a tennis ball in oak trees and, being voracious eaters, very quickly strip the trees of their leaves, before moving on to the next tree for a repeat performance. After pupating in late June or early July, the moths emerge about two weeks later.
Caterpillars have already been spotted in Reading and in the grounds of Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham in south-east London, so they are not far away. The Forestry Commission has issued an alert for South-east England, particularly areas including Bromley, Croydon and parts of Berkshire, asking people to be vigilant. Kew Gardens has even sprayed its oak trees to try and prevent an attack.
Dr. Yvonne Doyle, the London Regional Director of Public Health, has said that anyone who experiences an itchy or painful skin rash, sore throat or irritated eyes after being near oak trees should consult their GP or ring NHS111. Don’t touch the caterpillars and keep well away from them.
If you spot these hairy caterpillars, contact the Forestry Commission for England to let them know the location.”
Further information on this topic (from the Forestry Commission) here.
Picture credit: here.