April 1, 2009


Had intended to follow up previous post on reasons not to blog but called away for past week to sick parent in deepest, darkest part of U.K., far from civilisation, mobile reception, internet - everything. Help!

On my return, immediately went to look for Lola only to learn she was at the vet's. Very sick. A very sick bitch. And I’m a very angry … person.

But first , a brief word of explanation. Everywhere in southern Andalucia, you see at this time wild mimosa shrubs turning yellow - masses of tiny pom pom-like buds, so delicate in their golden beauty. Yet another sign of spring. But where there’s beauty, there’s often a beast.

No, not a politician this time. ( Sarkozy anyone?) And as for Andalucia, you can take your pick. (At the last count, there are over a dozen corruption cases currently going through the courts.)

No, it’s the Processional Pine Moth Caterpillar. And so you can be assured this is no April Fool’s jape, that’s the beast above. And why am I so angry? Because Lola, Senora Noriega’s gorgeous canine is, once again, their victim.
These creatures (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) start out in silky, candy floss ball-style nests in pine trees which they strip of their needles, then leave to seek out another on which to feed. From mid-February onwards for about two months, they wind their way in lines up and down trees and along the ground.

They always process single-file, head-to-tail (sometimes metres in length) apparently because of a tactile impulse from bristly, hair-like sensory protuberances on the gut of the one in front. You mustn’t walk on them or disturb them since the bristly, hairy bits easily break off and float away producing a severe toxic reaction in humans and pets if inhaled, eaten or even touched. There have been reported cases of dogs losing part of the tongue, even dying, after ingesting them.

For this reason, a lowish fence was erected to cordon off, and keep Lola away from, the offending pine - the source of the bite that landed her at the vet’s last year. But they’ve struck again. ‘Processionals’ don’t observe niceties like fences, covering greater distances and moving ever closer than before. And Lola’s not a sufficiently canny canine to resist strangers bearing gifts on their hairy guts…

Footnote: In an experiment, these creatures were placed in a circle around the edge of a terracotta pot so that there was no lead caterpillar. Guess what? They followed each other around in circles for days, in all weathers, going nowhere. Simply the impulse to follow leading them on and on and on.

A bit like those politicians*, or what?
*Except, natch, for Tom Watson MP (an unforgivable, solipsistic oversight!)


Titian red said...

Love the idea of rotating caterpillars, perhaps you could train them to circumnavigate plants likely to be attacked by snails ?

Nora Johnson said...

Titian Red: Great to see you again! And what a fabulous wheeze - wonder why horticulturists haven't thought of it before. Maybe an idea for Chelsea or shall we simply keep the secret here for the benefit of bloggers' gardens?

Tania Kindersley said...

Poor Lola! Am slightly haunted by thought of her coming under attack from the terrifying crawling creature.

Huge thanks for giving Backwards such a lovely shout out on yr blog. Exceptionally kind and supportive and much appreciated by me.

Nora Johnson said...

Hello Tania: Lola's slowly recovering from battery of anti-biotics but still looking quite miserable. So no clubbing/jogging this weekend - for her, some paws for thought...

Btw love yr blog & book (got Amazon reduction - whoopee!) so most happy to tell others in little Stop Press corner of blogosphere!

tattyhousehastings said...

Hello Nora
Lovely blog...must read more another day. But am seriously glad we don't have monster poison furry caterpillars in England. Jesus - you have to fence them off! And I do hope your dog is ok now?

Nora Johnson said...

Tattyhousehastings: Just popped by to say thanks so much for visiting my blog. I'm off to peruse your site now, which looks SO inviting! Anyone with a penchant for old houses & writing gets my vote!

P.S. Lola, who technically belongs to my neighbour but spends much more time with me, is thankfully now fully recovered. In fact, in the post she did on the 15th (Guest Post by Real First Dog of the US), she describes a part of the treatment in some lurid detail you may find distinctly unpleasant!!

Looking forward to seeing you here again,

Best wishes