This week we had just commenced a short stroll in the very popular São Lourenço area when I spotted nests of one of the most dangerous and destructive creatures here in the Algarve – the pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa).
Fortunately the larvae (caterpillars) in this nest looked quite small and so are unlikely to be commencing their treks in search of pupation sites just yet. However they were active and so this pine tree may not have a long future ahead of it. Thaumetopoea pityocampa caterpillars can completely defoliate trees if large quantities are present
A few yards further on we discovered even more hairy larvae. However these were a different colour, and they were on the cistus rather than pines.
It took me a while to discover their scientific name – Thaumetopoea herculeana as they are typically photographed in the final larvae stages when their hairs/tufts are very yellow green rather than in these early stages of blueish grey. I think only a couple in my photographs have a hint of the yellow green.
And even once I had their scientific name I wasn’t able to find out much more than the fact they are native to the Iberian peninsular. They don’t have a common name and most of the information is on the other processionary moths. However everything I did find, does indicate that whilst like all processionary larvae they carry the irritant in their hairs, these larvae are not as toxic. Although I am not going to risk getting any closer, especially as none of the birds were tucking in!
As you can see like the pine processionary they are very destructive to their host plants (Cistus, Erodium and Helianthemum) and also like to congregate in large numbers and move in a continuous line. MrB asked me about the moth and I’m sure others are curious too, so for pictures of the moth do check out this site. I’ll be back with another nature post soon as noticed I’ve not shared many recently.