Health alert as march of toxic cater­pil­lars gath­ers pace

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By He­lena Hor­ton

TOXIC cater­pil­lars that cause se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tions and asthma at­tacks are spread­ing out­side Lon­don, where the pest has been mul­ti­ply­ing in large num­bers.

Ex­perts warned the pub­lic about the larva of the oak pro­ces­sion­ary moth, which sheds poi­sonous hairs that can cause health prob­lems.

The hairs, which are shed when the in­sect be­comes stressed, can cause skin and eye ir­ri­ta­tions, sore throats and breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

The larva can be iden­ti­fied by its dis­tinc­tive long white hairs which con­trast markedly with other shorter hairs and the fact it mainly lives on oak trees, on which it feeds. Un­like other cater­pil­lars, it is not found on fences, walls or sim­i­lar struc­tures.

It was ac­ci­den­tally brought into the UK in 2005 from south­ern Europe, al­most cer­tainly as eggs on live oak plants im­ported from the Con­ti­nent.

Dr Glynn Per­ci­val, from the Bartlett Tree Re­search Lab, told the BBC: “There re­ally has been in­ten­sive man­age­ment regimes put in place, but it is still spread­ing on an an­nual ba­sis. It has now spread beyond the M25, it is just go­ing to spread fur­ther and fur­ther.”

Of­fi­cials have treated oak trees in Rich­mond, west Lon­don, where there is a large con­cen­tra­tion of cater­pil­lars, but this has not quelled the pop­u­la­tion’s rise. Peo­ple have been warned not to touch the cater­pil­lars, but if they ac­ci­den­tally do and start to suf­fer a se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tion, they should go to hos­pi­tal or con­tact their doc­tor.

The cater­pil­lars are a threat to oak trees, as they feed on the leaves and can strip trees bare, which makes them weak­ened and vul­ner­a­ble to other threats.

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