I’ve been putting in some training over the last few weeks, and now have a couple of 25+ km walks under my belt. My new boots (Merrell Moab Ventilators) are bedding in nicely, no sign of any blisters yet – although the phrase ‘don’t speak too soon’ comes to mind. I am enjoying walking solo with just the ever-ready and ever-faithful Roly for company, and am also walking with some friends on a regular basis.
The only problem with walking in the mountains at the moment is the proliferation of the processionary caterpillars (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). There are more nests than I have previously seen in the native pine trees that grow alongside the mountain tracks and the caterpillars are starting to emerge. As I wrote last year these are horrible creatures that are equipped with highly irritating hairs that can cause severe discomfort or worse to humans and pets. The result of coming into contact with the hairs of the caterpillar causes skin rashes and eye irritations and it has been known that if dogs have mouth contact then part of their tongues may need to be removed.
The first signs are the nests that appear in the pine trees over winter looking like candy floss caught up in the branches
During the winter months they leave the nest to feed on the pine needles at night and return to the nest to digest their food during the day. Although there is no mention of it in the Wikipedia entry that I read, I believe the caterpillars are responsible for killing some pine trees which end up looking like this.
When they are ready to pupate the caterpillars leave their nest for good, descend from the tree and go off in a nose-to-tail fashion to find soft ground in which to burrow and form cocoons . It is at this stage that the caterpillars are capable of ejecting their hairs which have a harpoon type barb on the end that penetrate and irritate any exposed skin. If you are walking and see nests in the trees, be very careful to watch where you are walking because at the moment they are processing all over the upper tracks in the natural park – and keep your dogs on a lead. I measured a procession, by striding alongside it, at 11 metres on my last walk!
This procession looks to have been broken up by a vehicle driving through it. They will undoubtedly regroup and continue on their way.
There’s a huge cave up in the mountains, on the other side of the valley from a walk I take. I would love to get a closer look. It has obviously been, or probably still is, used for animals, most likely goats, but I have never seen any herds in this valley. There seem to be troughs inside and some sort of structure slung from the walls, and a wooden door in the rocks below. I shall have to find a track that will lead me there to investigate – watch this space!