Poisonous caterpillars force schools to close

15th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

15 June 2005, BRAUNSCHWEIG - Tabloid newspapers across Germany on Wednesday warned of "a plague of poisonous caterpillars" that has prompted schools and kindergartens to close.

15 June 2005

BRAUNSCHWEIG - Tabloid newspapers across Germany on Wednesday warned of "a plague of poisonous caterpillars" that has prompted schools and kindergartens to close.

Officials dismissed the plague as an annual mid-summer ritual pitting man against the insect world. The bristly foes are oak processionary caterpillars, which have the nasty habit of 'firing' their venom-spiked bristles at enemies.

Contact with the caterpillars, which have multiplied by the thousands in recent days in Hesse state, can lead to skin rashes and asthma, a spokesman for the town of Dreieich said.

On Tuesday, a local day care centre was shut and a school in the town of Roedermark Ober Roden closed for two days earlier this month as a result of the outbreak.

Exterminators dressed in protective gear have been destroying and removing the cocoons from school yards in the area. Because the caterpillars prefer sunlight to shade, they tend to multiply in parks and playgrounds as opposed to the forest.

"The bristles can cause considerable skin irritation, which can result in a bad rash which is made worse when children persist in scratching the raw areas," says Alfred Wulf of the Federal Biological Institute (BBA) in Braunschweig.

He says an unusually warm and dry 2003 had initially drawn the insects to Germany from their preferred habitats in regions farther south. Most of southern and central Germany has been affected by the onslaught.

Otherwise defenceless creatures, their bristles are tipped with an enzyme-based poison designed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of any predators, such as birds.

The tiny, almost microscopic bristles come loose and bore their way into the tender tissues of any attackers. In humans, especially children with tender skin, the poison can lead to a form of contact dermatitis.

"These bristles can retain their toxicity for up to a year," said Wulf.

But he cautioned against over-reaction, saying, "This is just a manifestation of nature.

"In a few weeks these caterpillars will undergo a metamorphosis and everyone will be ecstatic about the unusually high numbers of beautiful butterflies we're having this summer."

DPA

Subject: German news

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