Out for a walk yesterday, we met about 600 caterpillars, also out for a walk. Pine processionary caterpillars. They’re extraordinary creatures, brown and hairy, that travel in long undulating lines, head to tail, looking for sandy earth to burrow into. We saw 2 processions in as many minutes, each more than 6 metres long. It’s quite an impressive sight, and at first glance, looks exactly like a long, thin, sinuous snake.
A caterpillar that somehow becomes isolated from the one in front writhes about in agitation until it manages to absorb itself into the group again. Something about these dependent creatures reminds me of those tragic World War One pictures of blinded soldiers advancing unsurely forward by hanging onto the shoulders of the man in front.
Don’t be seduced into thinking they’re rather sweet though. They’re a real danger, especially if you’re a curious small child or dog. When humans and our pets come into contact with the barbed and easily shed hairs, they can suffer reactions ranging from mild inflammation and irritation to severe anaphylactic shock. Some victims have even died.
If you’ve ever walked in the countryside here, you’ve almost certainly seen them, even if you’ve never come across a procession. Those candy-floss balls of delicate spun silk in so many pine trees round here are their nests and their original home as they developed from eggs to caterpillars.