Monday, 4 April 2011

Trekking in Fethiye Forests - The Processionary Caterpillar




If you've ever been to the Fethiye region of Turkey (or other pine forested areas of Mediterranean Turkey), you will no doubt have noticed the seemingly endless pine forests clinging to the hillsides. And adorning these pine trees, you've probably also noticed balls of white 'fluff' dangling from the higher branches.
Caterpillars in Fethiye Trees
This photo is taken on 10x optical zoom on the Kayaköy forest road from Fethiye
We've always been curious about what they are - it was obvious they were some kind of nest for creepy crawlies but we just weren't sure which. And then last Spring, we did the trek from Fethiye to Kayaköy with some Turkish friends and one of them pointed up to all the cotton balls in the pine trees. 'These are caterpillar nests and they're killing all the pine forests in Turkey.' Well, that wasn't really the news we wanted to hear on a sunny spring afternoon! I put it to the back of my mind and enjoyed the rest of our hike, promising myself to do a bit more research on these little creatures.  

I did manage to find a PDF showing results of a significant scientific study and it appears to suggest that, while the pine trees definitely suffer from the presence of the processionary caterpillar (the growth of the tree is stunted), the forest recovers more quickly than the caterpillar destroys. Obviously, it is still a serious pest throughout the pine forests of the Mediterranean and other nearby areas.

Fethiye Caterpillars in Trees
Processionary caterpillars preparing to make their descent from the pine trees
Further research revealed - and if I knew this before, I don't think I would have been brave enough to get up close and personal with these little specimens on the hill in Koca Çalış! - that the hairs on the processionary caterpillar are urticating hairs. I admit, I had to look this one up. I had no idea what urticating meant...

Well it means their hairs can sting you. We're not trying to scare everyone here. I used to be terrified of all that crawls and flies but as you can see from the above photos, I am getting more brave. But, we decided to do this this post as we do write about trekking in Fethiye and this is perhaps something to bear in mind for trekkers hiking through forested areas.The caterpillars are usually high up in the trees, away from harm but they do come down from the trees (in procession - hence the name) usually in later winter / early Spring. Children and curious dogs could have an allergic reaction if they come into contact with them. There is more information on this website.


If you're reading this and wondering what happened to the happy, positive Turkey's for Life blog, we're still here! We're happy, positive trekkers and want everyone else to be, too. Awareness of what's going on around us is important - and also interesting, as we're starting to find out. 


3 comments:

Whoa - stinging caterpillars?? I have to admit...that's pretty cool.

We have them here in Spain too - people are very worried about their pets getting too close as they can release some sort of spore, which gets into the lungs and can be very dangerous.
I always thought it was cute the way they marched nose to tail across roads but since discovering their potential for harm, I'll make sure we give them a wider berth.
Ax

@ Belinda: Yep, their hairs apparently. And they give off some sort of scent that people are also allergic too.

@ Annie: I think they're spreading - some have been seen in warmer areas of the UK too. I think if we had a dog, we'd muzzle him to stop him touching the caterpillars. Apparently they're completely harmless once they become moths.

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