Snaking Caterpillars: The Pine Processionary Caterpillar or Itchy Grub

Does anybody remember my post Going for a Walk with Mrs Bob? Let me remind you. There are a succession of four rather steep hills in a piece of conservation parkland close to where we live that can be rather challenging for a power walk. This is what it looks like…


bushwalkingMrs Bob and her friends go there regularly for walks, often taking their pet dogs with them. During one such walk last week, again with the dog…

bushwalking dog…my wife and her friend were startled by the appearance of a snake close by…

itchy grubExcept it wasn’t a snake at all, it was 26 caterpillars walking head to toe in a line to make themselves look like a snake…

itchy grubYes, when these things go on the march looking for food, they form a chain. Do they do this so they look like a snake to protect themselves from potential attackers? If they do, it’s a clever trick, but it’s not the only surprise they have.

When my wife returned from her walk, she showed me the pictures, which I’ve posted above, on her phone. “Wow, that’s weird!” I said, but of course, I needed to know more, so I looked it up.

The Pine Processionary Caterpillar

Yes, these things are known as pine processionary caterpillars; in Australia they are also known as ‘itchy grubs’. That may well give you a clue as to where we are going here.

Now, I know that some of my readers are very suspicious of any critter, creature, animal or insect that we have here in Australia, thinking that they are probably poisonous/venomous or simply able to kill you in one way or another.

So, should these people be concerned about the pine processionary caterpillar or itchy grub?

Of course; this is Australia.

In fairness to the rest of the world and the pine processionary caterpillar, these things are not just in Australia. They are found elsewhere, including the warmer regions of Europe. But yes, these critters should be avoided at all costs.

The potential to kill

As the itchy grub name suggests, the hairs on this caterpillar are itchy, they will irritate your skin. It’s lucky our dog didn’t get too close, these insects have the potential to kill an animal.

If any of their hairs brush off onto the dog, it will itch. The dog would then lick that itch and get the hairs on its tongue. Or a dog might simply sniff the caterpillars and therefore get the hairs inside its nostrils. Whichever method, lick or sniff, the tongue could then swell up and need to be amputated.

A severe reaction to these irritable hairs could result in kidney failure and death for the dog.

There is just about a possibility that a human coming into contact with these hairs could suffer a similar severe reaction leading to anaphylactic shock, which could also be a life threatening situation.

Luckily my wife and her friend kept their distance, as did our dog. If you are walking your dog in any part of the world where these pine processionary caterpillars might be, it would be a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for something that looks like this…

Writing this post reminded me of the Gympie Gympie Ouchy Ouchy: Worlds Most Venomous Plant.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • J.frost April 11, 2016, 9:08 pm |

    Thanks Bob! Such interesting creatures everywhere! Hoping to emigrate soon just waiting on visas. Can’t wait but will have a job keeping our 3 year old out of trouble with all of the native critters!

    • BobinOz April 12, 2016, 10:56 pm |

      I had similar concerns about our daughter here when we arrived back in 2007, she was the same age as your child at the time. I can tell you now with hindsight, it’s not something you need to worry overly about, you just have to look after your kids the same as you do now wherever you live. Australia isn’t really any different, children just need to be aware of some potential dangers, just in case.

  • J.frost April 11, 2016, 12:22 am |

    Hi Bob do you know if these little critters cause a severe reaction to anyone/thing or only if you happen to be allergic and trigger anaphylaxis?!

    • BobinOz April 11, 2016, 8:40 pm |

      I think the danger to humans is mainly that of anaphylactic shock, just the same as wasp and bee stings. I think people who suffer from asthma should be very careful around these things as well.

      I would think that a human fatality is extremely unlikely under any conditions though, assuming medical treatment were available and possibly even if it were not. Either way, they are not very pleasant, I understand it’s a very itchy experience.

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