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Oak processionary moth
The caterpillars of the oak processionary moth are a real pest, but I couldn’t contemplate killing them. I find myself in this situation regularly. So many so-called pests are creatures I’m quite happy to live alongside and I do so without a second thought.
The oak processionary moth is native to central and southern Europe. The caterpillars have toxic hairs which can irritate human skin and eyes. They mainly eat the foliage of oak trees and can cause serious defoliation of oaks in some years.
We recently spent a week in France, and were warned by the people we rented the house from to keep away from the ‘pretty’ hairy caterpillars. I’m no great fan of caterpillars and neither are the kids, so I just yelled a vague sort of warning out into the depths of the garden. But a couple of days later we spotted them. We’d just driven the car through the gate and had stopped to close it before setting off for the day. Suddenly there were yells of a mixture of horror and fascination from the children. I ran around to the back of the car and there they were: about 500 caterpillars writhing en masse across the drive and in to the adjacent field.
Sadly (and yes, I felt really bad about it) we ran over about five of them with one wheel of the car, then after a minute or two’s pause the rear part of the procession dutifully walked around their crushed relatives/friends and carried on their way.
We traced them back to the most amazing ‘ball’ of caterpillars which gradually unfurled to release those in the procession. When we returned they were still marching across the drive, but where were they going? Beyond the drive was a field, at the far side of which stood a lone oak tree.
We parked the car outside the gate to avoid damaging the last of their number. Nothing would have induced us to harm them.