As every Spanish child knows, don’t even think about handling the hairy caterpillars of the pine processionary moth ( procesionarias in Spanish).
Quoted from The Grapevine Magazine.
But my children aren’t Spanish children. We didn’t know to avoid them.
Not until Clara took the little cute caterpillar in hand to show her friend.
To which the mother came quickly over to us, told us to put the caterpillars down and immediately go wash our hands (all in Spanish but I got the basic idea). When Clara didn’t immediately put the caterpillar down, the mother shook it from her hand.
I said thank-you and off we went home to wash our hands. Amelia commented on how embarrassing that was and how that mom shouldn’t have shook Clara’s hand. I didn’t even notice that part.
Embarrassing, I agree.
Back home in the states, the girls routinely picked up tent caterpillars and collected them while we were at the park. They make little “homes” for them. They pet them. They let them crawl on their shirt and on their hands.
And since those in the states are considered a nuisance, I don’t give it much thought if the caterpillar finds his final resting place in the “home” my kids have created for them.
BUT, we have learned our lesson. You should not pick up random bugs or caterpillars you find in the forest or on the sidewalk. At least not in Spain.
It was on Wednesday as we were walking home from school, I saw a string of caterpillars traveling butt to nose along the sidewalk. I pointed them out to the girls to have a look.
They of course wanted to move them from the sidewalk so they wouldn’t get stepped on. We stopped and I let them move the caterpillars. All ten of them. Amelia put one on Clara’s shirt. Violet let one crawl all around her hand. The caterpillars would curl into a ball, fall to the ground and the girls would pick them back up.
It was at this point that Clara picked one up to show her friend and the mother told us not to and wash our hands immediately. Amelia & I were embarrassed. Violet wanted to know why we shouldn’t touch them.
Of course, I didn’t know. And like with anything you don’t know – I googled it!
The results were shocking and concerning.
I started to freak out!
Because here are the headlines that popped up when I googled “caterpillars in spain”:
- DANGEROUS SPANISH WILDLIFE
- EDUCATIONAL AND WARNING VIDEO
- CATERPILLARS CAN KILL YOU
- ALERT OVER POISONOUS PINE CATERPILLAR SEASON
- DOGS AND KILLER PROCESSIONARY CATERPILLARS
- DEVSTATED DOG OWNER WARNS OF LETHAL EFFECTS
I took the girls back to the bathroom and scrubbed their hands with a kitchen sponge. I changed their clothes. I gave each of them Benadryl.
And I went back to searching the internet for symptoms and treatments not just warnings. Which there were a lot of. The lack of information on what to do if you should touch them was alarming.
The reactions in humans of touching the caterpillars or inhaling their hairs ranged from an itchy rash that lasted up to 3 weeks to anaphylactic shock.
I could feel my own tongue, eyes and hands swelling. I popped a benedryl myself; even though I did not touch them. I was near them! I held Violet’s hand!
These websites were warning folks to be careful of even standing under pine trees between February and April. They recommended always carrying an anti-histamine with you in the forest.
My kids were playing with them!
I know my swelling hands and eyes were psychological but I was freaking out. I took a shower and stopped scouring the internet. (The last story I read was of the toddler that died after one fell in his mouth while sleeping under a pine tree).
We have been picnicing in the forest; under pine trees!!!
We made the girls stay in the living room with us and watch movies. We didn’t take them back to school. They didn’t go to gymnastics (it’s further away from urgent care). We stayed on the couches together until bedtime.
Jeff & I got up throughout the night to make sure they were okay.
Amelia ended up with some itchy, irritated hands and Violet has a small rash on her cheeks, neck and shoulders (both her neck and shoulder were covered by her clothing) that is slightly itchy. Clara is fine.
My adrenaline has returned to normal; although I feel like an idiot.
I’m grateful to the mother who came to tell us. We would have likely stayed playing with the caterpillars and I would have never given them Benadryl or been on alert for any reactions.
I’m glad we were in town and not out in the forest where no one would have seen us playing with them.
In a twist of irony, the photo’s at the top of this post were taken by Jeff nearly a week before this incident occurred. He had found these processionary caterpillars in the forest while walking with Clara. He didn’t let her touch them – he thought their behavior odd. He meant to tell me about them and look them up himself. Instead, we spent the day cuddled up with our kids; on high alert to any sign that we should rush them into urgent care.