Thursday, 7 March 2013

Spring Dangers !

Hopefully, with the onset of Spring, we will begin to get some great walking days again. As I write this I’m sheltering from the fourth day of rain, having to run a generator to use the computer. Oh the joys of solar power! I know we need the rain and snow. How else would I fill my alberca, but after a couple of days we do get a bit stir crazy. For those who do get out in the next couple of weeks there is a potential danger to look out for, the Pine Processionary Moth caterpillars (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). The adult moths lay eggs inside a distinctive silky nest in pine trees where the eggs and later caterpillars will over-winter. Once hatched and outside the nest the caterpillars are fascinating to see as they often create a trail of up to a meter long as they follow each other nose to tail, crossing your path or descending a tree. The caterpillar is covered in fine hairs which can be a severe irritant if touched and in later stages of the caterpillar’s development can be released into the air. If breathed in, the hairs can cause severe allergic reaction in susceptible people. They are also a problem for dogs or cats. If they sniff or lick the trails of caterpillars they can have a severe reaction, problems with breathing and possibly be killed. As the name suggests they are predominantly found in pine woodlands so at this time of year beware if you walking in an area of pine trees. If, like me you have a pine tree on your land you may have more of a problem. Having cut out branches infested with nests for a few years, my pine tree was beginning to look a bit bald. I asked Manolo, my neighbour, how to deal with the nests and was told, quite seriously, to use a shotgun. Apparently the idea was to break open the nest before winter to expose the inside to frost and hence kill off the eggs and larvae. Not possessing a shotgun I initially used an air rifle borrowed from another neighbour. However, though we hit the nests, the pellet didn’t break them open. The answer was to get a fisherman’s catapult suitably equipped with a bait cup. This, when filled with gravel, did a great job of bursting the nests and hence allowing the frost do its job. We tried this the winter before last and had no nests at all this winter. Just beware, don’t do it once the caterpillars are hatched as they will rain down on you. Also if you or your neighbours have solar panels, greenhouses, expensive patio doors etc anywhere near, you might get a few complaints if you start firing stones around willy nilly!