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They may look cute, but hairy caterpillars are certainly not to be messed with.

Few weeks ago I attended to a dog with pretty unusual symptoms and this immediately made me think of  caterpillar poisoning.

Hairy caterpillars are usually irresistible to dogs, they will try to play with them, sniff them or nibble on them. Some veterinarians think its because of their smell but I am not sure how they came to this conclusion. Cats generally avoid hairy caterpillars and they seem to be afraid of them.

Whatever the case these caterpillars can be very poisonous. Some species acquire poisonous chemicals from their host plants and some species also have the ability to make their own defences. Common defences include: cardiac glycosides (or cardenolides), pyrrolizidine alkaloids, pyrazines and histamines.

In this particular case Pine Processionary Moth caterpillar was very high on my suspect list, so I blogged about it here and shared some tips on first aid to caterpillar poisoning

At the time I was not sure if this species even exists in Malta. Some nature enthusiasts claimed they have seen it but it was all hearsay and I wasn't convinced. For all my years of practicing in Malta I have never seen a case like this and surely if Pine Processionary Moth was present on the island we would have seen much more cases during this time of the year due to very invasive nature of this moth species.

In other Mediterranean countries like Croatia and Spain, during February and March veterinarians commonly deal quite often with canine victims of such encounters.  

Finally I managed to get in touch with local moth and butterfly expert Anthony Seguna, who confirmed this species fortunately does not exist in Malta. Unfortunately though - there are several other species of caterpillars with uriticating hairs that are indigenous to Maltese islands and can cause similar symptoms both in dogs and humans. Luckily for us they are not as invasive as Pine Processionary Moth caterpillars, which during this time of the year migrate from trees to the ground in large numbers.

These are:

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar known locally as Busuf, lives on almond or other fruit trees.

Maltese Ruby Tiger Moth Caterpillar, lives in garrigue habitats  and  feeds on borage Borago officinalis (known as Fidloqqom in Maltese). 

Oak Eggar Moth Caterpillar ( or Lappet Moth )  feeds on  Oak, Ivy, and Buckthorn leaves and can be found in habitats like Buskett gardens. 

Grass Eggar Moth caterpillar feeds on grasses and is  usually found in fields and garrigue.



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