Oak Processionary Moth
The Oak processionary moth is a major defoliator of Oak in Europe and has become established in London and surrounds. There have also been outbreaks in Hertfordshire, Berkshire and parts of Surrey.
This species of moth with caterpillars feeds and lives almost exclusively on Oak trees. The caterpillars are covered in small hairs which can cause health risks in humans. The Oak processionary moth not only strips Oak trees of their leaves, leaving them vulnerable but they can also cause rashes and breathing difficulties for humans.
Eggs are laid in late summer on small branches high in the canopy. The ‘plaques’ consist of up to 200 eggs, on average. Hatching occurs in April and the larvae feed on the foliage of the tree. When not feeding, the larvae congregate in a communal nest made from white silk webbing. They are easily recognisable as they move around in a nose-to-tail procession. Caterpillars pupate after 9-12 weeks of feeding and remain in their nests for approximately 2 weeks before emerging in July or August to start the process again. The adult month only live for four days in order to mate and the cycle starts again.
Caterpillars were also found on recently imported trees in Cardiff, Hampshire and Birmingham in 2019. There are now tough restrictions on importing oaks into the UK reducing the risk of the caterpillars being imported. If the caterpillars are found outside of the London and Surrey outbreak zones it should be reported via TreeAlert
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