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Poisonous caterpillars plague Germany

Poisonous caterpillars plague Germany

Poisonous caterpillars plague Germany

A tiny creepy crawly is causing a whole load of mayhem in Germany again this year. After forcing the closure of multiple schools, swimming lakes and public pools last year, the oak processionary moth caterpillars are back with a vengeance - and people are being warned to watch out!

Poisonous processionary moth caterpillar wreaks havoc

They may look relatively harmless, but the up to 700.000 fine, long hairs that cover that caterpillar’s body - which can spread far from the nest and remain active for years - contain an irritating toxin that can cause itchy, blistering rashes, sometimes lasting for weeks at a time. They have also been known to make people feel dizzy and feverish, and to cause breathing difficulties and asthma attacks.

These pesky critters are now wreaking havoc across the whole of Germany, with cities and towns in Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria the worst affected, despite authorities' attempts to pre-empt the infestation. Local governments regularly treat their oak trees to try to keep the caterpillars at bay. The city of Frankfurt even enlisted the help of several helicopters to treat hundreds of acres of forest!

Hot weather boosts caterpillar population

Despite their best attempts, however, the hot, dry weather we’ve been having recently has apparently allowed the caterpillars to multiply extremely rapidly. Although they usually emerge at the beginning of May and fly away as moths sometime between July and September, this year’s population has exceeded all expectations. The lack of rain has also allowed the poisonous caterpillar hairs to be blown far away from the nests by the wind.  

Back in May, these caterpillars brought the A1 autobahn near Hamburg to a standstill for three whole nights. A swimming pool in Dortmund has also been forced to remain closed since the beginning of June due to an infestation, while nine children at a sports festival in Mülheim had to be treated after suffering serious allergic reactions. 

In the western city of Münster last week, six people were forced to undergo eye operations to remove caterpillar hairs that had become lodged in their corneas. In the Netherlands, one of these tiny hairs was reportedly responsible for a woman partially losing her sight! 

How to protect yourself against processionary moth caterpillars

The caterpillars congregate in free-standing oak trees, where they lay their eggs. To protect yourself, avoid contact with the caterpillars and their nests at all costs. Do not go near oak trees that might be infested, do not sit on the grass underneath oak trees, where the tiny hairs might be hiding, and wear sunglasses while cycling. If you encounter a nest, do not try to remove it yourself but contact your local Ordnungsamt.

In case of accidental contact, health authorities recommend the following measures: 

  • Change your clothing immediately.
  • Attempt to remove the hair with a piece of adhesive tape.
  • Shower and wash your hair.
  • Wash your eyes, if they have come into contact with the hairs.
  • Treat skin reactions with antihistamine or corticosteroid creams.
  • Oral antihistamines may also help pronounced itching.
  • Medicines such as asthma spray can help respiratory problems.
  • If your symptoms become severe, especially if you are having trouble breathing, consult a doctor.
Abi

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Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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