If you head to the woods today you may be in for an unpleasant surprise, especially if you live near the Danish-German border.
Over the last few years, the oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) has been moving northwards and is now close to Denmark.
The moths, whose caterpillars can be found in oak forests, cause significant damage. They travel in nose-to-tail processions (hence their name), often arrow-headed, with a leader followed by rows of several caterpillars abreast.
What is worse is that they have poisonous hairs that can cause skin irritation and asthma in humans.
Lurking outside Rostock
“It has been seen in Rostock just over the other side of the Fehmarn Belt, so it is close. With the type of summer we had last year, things could move quickly,” Hans Peter Ravn, associate professor from the institute of geosciences and natural resource management at the University of Copenhagen, told TV2 Nyheder.
“You shouldn’t touch the caterpillars, but rather alert the authorities,” said Ravn.
Although not considered an invasive species, climate change has caused the moths to breed and spread quicker than they used to.
Getting a bit hairy
The caterpillars have around 62,000 hairs full of a poisonous protein called thaumetopoein they secrete when they feel threatened, so people can be affected by touching the caterpillars but also by inhaling wind-borne hairs.
“This can give an allergic reaction in the airwaves and lungs, so you can’t breathe and in the worst case, you could die,” added Ravn.
According to JyskeVestkysten, earlier this week caterpillars were responsible for a number of road closures around Hamburg where the authorities have been trying to fight the insects with insecticides
There is a relative of the moth already living in Bornholm – the pine processionary moth. It has caused a number of people to be hospitalised recently.