Dangers in Nature: Oak Processionary Moth

Geocaching is an outdoor sport. You spend a lot of time in the great outdoors and when you're not on a city trip, you also get in touch with nature. That's good and that's the way it should be. However, there are also small dangers that one can and should protect oneself against.

Currently you could meet the oak processionary moth again. For a few years now, the little animal, a caterpillar that pupates and becomes a butterfly, has also been native to our regions. Not least due to climate change, warmer winters and hotter summers, we have an increasing number of these animals every year. Simply because it sounds nice, here's the official name: Thaumetopoea processionea.

The Oak Processionary Moth
It is a caterpillar that pupates in July and turns into a butterfly of the toothed moth family. An inconspicuous, harmless moth.
He actually comes from southern Europe. There he had enough predators. It is believed that it was brought to northern Europe through the trade in oak plants. It feeds almost exclusively on oak leaves.
Oak processionary moths lay their eggs on twigs and branches. Those that hatch in May then move in so-called nose-to-tail processions from May (see explanation below)
Belt nests are formed by the animals on tree trunks in early summer. The caterpillars rest in these nests when they are not feeding. Pupation then also takes place in summer in these nests.

This means that several oak processionary moths together form an arrow-shaped column. A caterpillar leads the procession at the head. This is how a whole group of oak processionary moths move. Actually very nice to look at. But they also have unpleasant qualities.

The unpleasant thing about the animal
Oak processionary moths are hairy caterpillars. They are often referred to as a plague because they eat the leaves off the oak trees, damaging the trees. Whole trees are eaten bare, which can result in the oak tree being weakened and dying.

Skin contact with the stinging hairs of the caterpillar can trigger an allergic reaction in humans.
A caterpillar has a total of approx. 600,000 burning hairs. We are otherwise familiar with stinging hairs from tarantulas or stinging nettles.
Stinging hairs have tiny barbs and contain a nettle toxin, thaumetopoein. Touching it can cause an allergic skin reaction. This can lead to itching, swelling and asthma attacks with shortness of breath.
Unlike tarantulas and stinging nettles, the many small stinging hairs of the oak processionary moth can also fly through the air. Reactions occur more frequently here, as the hairs are then inhaled or touch free skin or get into our eyes. In years with a particularly heavy infestation, this can be clearly seen in forests and parks.
Auch Haustiere wie Hund und Katze können von den Brennhärchen geärgert werden.

what to do
Measure #1 is to cover arms, shoulders and legs when walking in vulnerable areas.
Particularly endangered areas are often named in the daily press or cordoned off with signs. You should – even if there is a great cache in the area – avoid this area and come back later.
And of course infested nests and oak trees should not be touched. Even with a fully developed moth, many stinging hairs remain in the nests.

If you find such a nest, you should not remove it yourself. Approaching such a nest must also be done with the remaining large distance. Professional help is needed here now.

Identifying features of the oak processionary moth
- Lifespan from late spring to early summer
- on branches and trunks of oaks, but also on the ground around the oak.
- Locomotion mostly in nose-to-tail procession
- Formation of nests that appear silky and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Also the nests can be found on the ground
- lange, weiße Brennhaare

First aid measures
If you come into contact with stinging hairs, it helps to wash off the skin. Showering is best, because stinging hairs also tend to get caught in our hair, which can lead to irritation for days later. Of course, you also have to change and wash your clothes.
The affected skin area should be cooled. Anti-inflammatory ointments and anti-allergic drugs help with this. A visit to the doctor is recommended if the skin area is larger and you are otherwise prone to allergic reactions. A visit to the pharmacy can
ebenso hilfreich sein.

As long as you stick to the safety measures mentioned, keep your distance, cover parts of your skin as much as possible and don't go to endangered, cordoned off areas, you don't need to worry. A stay in nature or a cache search in the oak forest can still take place. One should only have a keen eye, have heard of and be able to recognize the oak processionary moth.
And remember: no cache in the world is worth risking your health!
If the cache, individual stations or the final is in an endangered area, if you have discovered something, if signs have been put up or if you have discovered nests: please inform the owner so that the cache can be deactivated.


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