The Forest District appeals to holidaymakers. These hairs contain a strong toxin

The Forest District appeals to holidaymakers. These hairs contain a strong toxin

This inconspicuous, yet creepy creature sits as if nothing had happened on the leaves, trunks or branches of countless oak trees, posing a threat to people and animals. “Attention, holidaymakers” – the State Forests appeal. The caterpillar can be found in forests all over Poland today.

The oak processionary is a thermophilic butterfly, from whose eggs hatch caterpillars, densely covered with characteristic hairs. LP explains that they feed mainly at night, and are most easily found in the leaves of oaks, although they have also shown sympathy for other species. One tree can become a home for up to 100,000 processionary – emphasize foresters.

The caterpillar poses a threat to humans and animals from the very first day

And although the butterfly – to tell the truth: not very beautiful – in its mature form does not pose a threat to humans, it is different when it is in the development phase as a caterpillar. Foresters report that from the first day of its existence, hairs can be found on its body that have poisonous properties.

They sting the victim, which of course has a defensive function – in this way the caterpillar wants to discourage a potential predator from attacking it. And it can do this even from the air, shooting out hairs that, thanks to gusts of wind, can travel for miles. Although they are brittle and fragile, they contain thaumetopoein – a toxin that can cause a strong allergic reaction – in both animals and humans.

What are the typical symptoms? The substance can cause skin reactions (severe itching, rash, redness or blistering of the skin), as well as breathing problems if these enter the lungs (as well as cause asthma, shortness of breath, coughing or irritation of the respiratory tract). In addition, when thaumetopoein gets into the eyes, it can cause conjunctivitis, itching, redness or swelling. Severe allergic reactions are also possible if the person is allergic to the mentioned chemical compound from the urticarial protein group. The State Forests also list other symptoms, such as dizziness or fever – after direct contact with the oak processionary moth.

The insect is multiplying more and more in Polish forests.

There are no known cases of death after contact with the substance – contact with the caterpillar hairs most often ends with a skin reaction, and in case of more serious problems, the administration of antihistamines or corticosteroids helps as a last resort.

If you have touched the hair with your clothes, you should wash them – at least 60 degrees Celsius. You should also remove them from the skin surface, if they are on it – e.g. with adhesive tape. You should wash the irritated areas under running water. You should also refrain from scratching the lesions, which may itch. If the hair gets into your eyes or lungs, it is worth asking for help from specialists (e.g. go to a nearby hospital).

The Sława Śląska Forest District indicates that the insect “can be encountered more and more often in forests”, and such an encounter “can be unpleasant and even dangerous to health”. What is causing the increasing number of processionary beetles in Poland? Foresters point to high air temperatures and dry days at the beginning of summer. LP reports that the strong multiplication of Thaumetopoea processionea has been observed for over a decade.

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