Millions of Insects Are Spreading Toxin-Filled Hairs

And European officials are trying to cope
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2019 4:20 PM CDT
Updated Jul 13, 2019 12:30 PM CDT
These Little Insects Are Europe's New Plague
Oak processionary moth caterpillars.   (Getty Images)

First came the heat. Now Europeans are battling a nasty caterpillar infestation that spreads everything from allergic reactions to rashes to asthma attacks. Millions of the little creatures have made life harder for people in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, thanks to the insects' toxin-filled hairs—which can ride the wind and settle on humans and pets, the New York Post reports. It's so bad in Germany that a park was shut down for three weeks (up to 500 trees were infested) and a freeway was closed for three nights while firefighters battled infestations, per the Guardian. In Munster, six people needed eye operations to pull caterpillar hair from their corneas.

Called oak processionary moth caterpillars, they're named after the way they march nose-to-tail between oak trees. They're fairly rare in Germany but exploded due to this year's temperate spring and dry, warm summer. "It's terrible everywhere," says a city administrator in Issum. "It would be great if it would rain so that at least all the hair on the leaves and in the air could be washed away." Meanwhile, each caterpillar has up to 700,000 hairs that can continue annoying people for months after the caterpillars begin pupating in July. On the quirkier side, there's an elderly Dutch woman caught on video as she attacks a caterpillar-infested tree with a heat gun, per the NL Times. But even there, an expert warns that heat only spreads caterpillar hair to the next victim. (More infestation stories.)

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