Dangerous Spanish Wildlife

Creepy Crawlies

Bees, Caterpillars, Hornets and Wasps etc

The sting from any of these insects can be very painful. Try to withdraw the sting immediately but do not use tweezers because squeezing or pressing the sting can inject more poison into the skin.

It is recommended that you scratch off the sting with your fingernail, a knife or the edge of a credit card. Normal reaction to a sting is pain, itching and swelling of the injured area but these symptoms will pass off within hours.

Treatment: Clean the injured area and bathe with cold water.

Warning: Some people are severely sensitive to insect venom and can suffer respiratory and cardiac problems. If a person who has been stung shows signs of wheezing, breathing difficulties and/or facial swelling or has a rapid pulse, it is a sign that he/she has an allergy.
Do not delay: Call an ambulance or get to a hospital casualty department immediately. An allergy to such a sting can be life threatening.

Caterpillars (Processional Pine Caterpillars)

Processionary Pine Caterpillar tent - courtesy of TD Fitzgerald

Pine Caterpillars (Latin name thaumetopoea pityocampa) are probably one of the most unpleasant creatures you will find in Spain, certainly in areas where pine trees grow in abundance. They are found throughout the warmer regions of Southern Europe, the Near East and North Africa. As well as causing much damage to pine forests, they are a major danger to animals and, to a lesser degree, human beings.

Do not touch them. Warn your children that they are not like the friendly English caterpillars. The very fine hairs on these creatures are poisonous and most dangerous. They can be seen living in silk cocoon style nests hanging in the pine trees to which they are most harmful, stripping them of their pine needles. When hungry, they leave their cocoon to seek another uninfested tree on which to feed. They travel nose to tail in a line, hence the name Processional. They are most noticeable from January to mid April and are at their most dangerous in mid/late February. The caterpillars are often seen in the evenings, walking in procession from tree to tree.

Pine Caterpillar in procession to its feeding area  - courtesy of TD Fitzgerald

If they drop onto you or your pet, don't brush them off with your hands because the effect is most unpleasant, causing great irritation, rash and pain. Dogs, cats and people can suffer from shock. The hairs of the caterpillars are still virulent even when the creatures are dead. Do not hit them with sticks because hairs flying in the air are just as dangerous. Burn them, but be careful of floating hairs. If the caterpillars are in the tree cocoon state, first spray the nest with hair spray (to seal down the hairs), cover the cocoon and the affected part of the branch with a plastic bag, cut down the branch, place it on clear ground and burn it.

If the caterpillars are on the ground marching, it is better first to spray them with lighter fuel and then set them alight. This reduces the risk of flying hairs.
Take care to only do this where you cannot inadvertently start a forest fire because during the summer months the undergrowth and trees are very dry.

If you live near pine trees, it is recommended that you keep Anti Histamine tablets handy as an early treatment. In particular, avoid ingesting the hairs. Dogs are most at risk by sniffing the ground where the caterpillars have marched.

Take particular care with your eyes. If affected the result is serious, causing pain and swelling similar to a bad case of conjunctivitis.

Treatment: If a person or animal shows signs of shock, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.

If you have children and are considering buying property, take the above details into consideration.

Golfing. When these caterpillars march across golf courses, play ceases immediately because it is too hazardous to try to clear them away.

Centipedes

Centipedes are generally considered to be more of a nuisance than a nasty, unless you have an allergy to their venom. They can give a sting, unpleasant but not dangerous, however all centipedes should be considered hazardous just in case you are one of the unfortunates who have the allergy.

Mosquitoes

Europe was rife with malaria until the middle of the 20th century but Spain made great efforts to clear its wetlands where the problem was endemic and in 1964 malaria was declared to be eradicated from the country.

However, mosquito bites aren’t just a painful nuisance, they can pass on serious diseases such as yellow fever, encephalitis and malaria to both humans and animals.

Additionally, this year, a strain of mosquito has brought West Nile virus into the Barcelona area and it is predicted to spread across the whole Mediterranean coastline. See iberianature.com

The areas most at risk are those that retain weed infested pools of stagnant water. These conditions encourage breeding and it is the bite of the female that is dangerous and can transmit disease. Town centres and well managed areas such as Gandia are fairly free but if you live near any area with stagnant ponds, take special precautions. Complain to the local Ayuntamiento (town hall).

Prevention: I read many suggestions, for example, take more vitamin B1, but another source advises more Vitamin B6. There are many repellents sold which state that they offer protection for a number of hours after application.
Caution: unless otherwise directed -
DO NOT spray in enclosed areas or apply repellent over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
DO NOT apply to eyes and mouth and do not apply to the hands of young children.

I have no medical experience, so if you live in a mosquito infected area, ask your doctor or Farmacia (chemist) for advice. There are also many electrically activated repellents on sale. For young children the use of an anti mosquito net over the bed at night is still very effective.

Treatment: Application of a camomile lotion can help alleviate itchiness. As ever, if an extreme reaction occurs, seek medical advice.

Praying Mantis on the Serella ridges

They do not bite humans, or spread disease. However, when handled, their spiny-like forelegs can be readily felt as a "sharp pinch." Mantids are most commonly seen in late September and early October.

Sand Flies (Leishmaniasis)

Your Pet Dog needs protection, otherwise it can be in serious danger

Dogs that regularly travel abroad may be exposed to Leishmaniasis (also known as Kala-Azar) which is carried from dog-to-dog by a bite from a Sand Fly.

The name 'Sand Fly' is misleading as the Sand Fly's natural habitat is in wooded and garden areas.

Dogs can be bitten up to 100 times an hour during the sand fly season which begins in May and ends in October. August is the worst month. The flies are mainly active between dusk and dawn. Early morning, 2 to 4am, is the worst period. They are not high flyers so your dog is better off in an upper room or flat at night. Fitting a preventative collar will protect your pet from approximately 95% of sand flies bites for the whole season. Dogs left out in the garden as security guards are particularly at risk.

It is thought that there may be very rare suspected cases of the disease being passed to humans; this is currently being research by the World Health Authority.

Prevention: The best preventative treatment up to now is , "INTERVET" invented a year ago and based on mosquito repellents It is impregnated into a very effective collar called "SCALIBOR"

Please note, this collar lasts for one season only and needs replacing each May. Do not let children play with the collar, we have also found the smell somewhat unpleasant.

See your Vet about a collar before you travel to Spain. Mosquito repellents, sprays and some mosquito nets etc help to keep them out of the house. These flies are very tiny.

Things that the owner can do to prevent are:

  • Keep the dog inside the house when the sun starts to set, and keep toilet breaks short before bedtime.
  • Don't give night walks where water runs
  • Use of mosquito nets to keep flies out of the house.

There have been very few cases of Leishmaniasis "Kala-Azar" in Spain. When they occur they can be fatal if not treated.

Scorpions

Scorpions are found mainly in the dry country areas and on open foreshores. I would suggest that when camping in these areas, you check your footwear each morning before inserting your foot. I found it paid off many years ago when I was stationed in Africa.

The Mediterranean Scorpion (Buthus Occitanus - Escorpión Amarillo) is not as dangerous as the North African type but the sting is extremely painful.
As they are quite numerous, wearing boots covering the ankles is a good idea in dry rocky areas.

The European Black Scorpion is present in the northern regions of Spain. This scorpion's sting is unpleasant but soon wears off.

Spiders

Spiders are in the undergrowth but mainly harmless except for a funnel web spider which I have been told is not found in coastal areas.

Funnel web spiders (Hexathelidae) I can find little data stating in which province they are to be found but I am told they are not of the very venomous type indigenous to Sydney, Australia.

Tarantulas are very common in the western portion of Toledo province but fortunately the venom is weak and supposedly has little effect on humans.

Black Widow Spider (Latrodectus Tredecimguttatus) is the most widely distributed species in Europe and is the most dangerous spider in Spain giving a nasty bite but not fatal. Whilst they are rare, it is said to be commonest in the arid parts of Almeria and Aragon and also in the Valencia and Andalucian regions.

Brown Recluse Spiders (Loxosceles Reclusa) are found in parts of Spain but are less virulent than in other parts of the world and is not lethal. Bites from this spider cause a tender blister to develop, characteristically with a “bull’s eye” appearance (a red centre). At the time a person is bitten, it is often hardly noticeable and it can be several hours before the venom to takes effect. Then, it is very painful.

If you are bitten: Always try to kill the spider and keep the body. This helps the doctor to identify which spider anti venom is needed for treatment.

Treatment: Do not ignore bites. Always get medical attention as early as possible.

Stinging Ants (Myrmica rubra laevinoides - hormiga roja chica)

This is, I believe, the only species of poisonous ant but whilst its bite is unpleasant it is said to be not serious.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms can affect humans, particularly children crawling on the ground in gardens and parks where dogs are allowed to roam. Always use a Poopy Scoop and dispose of your animal’s rubbish safely. Again, ensure your animal has regular worming treatment.

Ticks

As in most hot countries, Ticks are prevalent in Spain and they can transmit nasty diseases to your pet such as canine Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. They can cause dogs and cats incurable damage which incurs lifelong administration of drugs. There is as yet no known cure. If you find one on your pet, it is suggested that the tick should be doused with alcohol or spirit. This makes the tick contract and allows you to pull it out whole. Leaving a portion of the tick inside the dog/cat is likely to cause an abscess.

Prevention and Treatment: Various forms of prevention are available.
Caution: if you live in an area where your animal needs to wear a special collar against Sand fly, I am advised that this will not also protect against Ticks and wearing Anti Tick and Sand Fly collars together is detrimental to the dog’s health.
In areas where Sand Fly is a problem, protect your animal against ticks with anti tick drops which do not react against the chemicals in the collar. These drops are easily placed around the pet’s neck.

If ignored, in exceptional cases, tick fever can be fatal to the animal.
It is most important that you are advised by a qualified vet.

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