Dangerous Critters!

In a previous blog, we wrote about the wild boar and how they have become a bit of a nuisance here in Girona province. As with most creatures, they are not dangerous to humans unless they feel threatened by us and the main worry is hitting one with your car – not good for either the boar, the person or the car!

And although there are very few animals that pose any kind of serious threat to us in this neck of the woods, there are a couple that is worth mentioning.

Processionary caterpillars
Right now, we have processionary (pine) caterpillars in the area – and they’re not nice guys! Orange and brown in colour, these nasty characters are easy to recognize because, as their name suggests, they walk in single file processions, head to tail. They are also hairy in appearance – although their “hairs” are actually like mini harpoons, and this is what makes them dangerous. If they feel threatened they eject their hairs as a defence, causing major skin irritation to anyone that comes in contact. The resulting rash can last for weeks and can make children in particular quite sick.

Group of caterpillars on the ground. Image by instagram.com/mddekker

The main risk is to your pets though, and they can even be fatal to dogs and cats. Because of the recent warm weather, they have already been spotted in higher than normal numbers in various parts of the country. Their nests are silver in colour and are found especially where there are pine trees. So, keep an eye out for them but, whatever you do, do not touch!

Other stinging bugs
Like the processionary caterpillar, most bugs are more of a danger to your pet than to yourself. From May to October the not very aptly-named sandfly (it lives in wooded and garden areas) can be a danger to your dog as it transmits leishmaniasis, a disease endemic in dogs for centuries but extremely rare in humans. Prevention is better than cure in this case as there actually is no cure, so fitting your pet with a preventative collar during the season is the best strategy.

Close up macro of small sand fly on green leaf.

The tick is another critter that is prevalent throughout Spain and can transmit incurable diseases to your pet, particularly in spring and autumn. Again, a preventative collar can help in this case and will work for fleas as well. Ticks can also be a risk for humans as they can spread the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but this is not common.

An extreme closeup of a living tick.

There are plenty of other insects that can sting such as wasps, bees and hornets, but for the most part, (unless you have an allergy) these are more a nuisance than a danger. If you do get stung, try and remove the sting right away if possible, but do not use tweezers! If the sting happens to contain venom then using tweezers may inject more poison into the skin, increasing irritation. In the case of an allergic reaction a person may begin to go into shock, so do not hesitate – call an ambulance! Better safe than sorry. Of course, there are the mosquitos too and they can be a real pest. Some people seem to more susceptible to bites than others but usually, a good mosquito repellent will solve the problem. Thankfully malaria was eradicated from Spain well over a half century ago!

There are 13 species of snake native to Spain but only five are venomous, and two of those five are not even found in Catalunya. Of the other three, either they do their best to live as far away from humans as is serpently possible, or their venom is not strong enough to pose a danger to most humans. In fact, more people die from wasp or bee stings than a snakebite. The wisest course of action if you do come across a snake of any kind is to give it a wide berth, both for your own sake as well as for the snakes. Just leave ‘em alone! If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten, try to get a good look at the snake for identification purposes, stay as calm as possible, and seek medical assistance immediately.

False Smooth Snake is not aggressive. But no matter which snake you see, it is advised to stay away!

Spiders and scorpions
Not much to worry about here… Although there are some species of both than can bite or sting, they are not particularly dangerous, except to people with an allergy. If you do suffer from such an allergy it’s probably a good idea to wear ankle boots if out camping or hiking in the woods – and before putting on your footwear in the morning, it’s a good idea to give it a good shake in case of any uninvited creepy crawlies taking up temporary residence within overnight.

Scorpion in defensive position.

Shark!!! (Better than jellyfish though!)
Yes, there are sharks in the Mediterranean – almost 50 species of them altogether! A 5m Great White was even spotted off the coast of Mallorca last summer – the first confirmed sighting in Spanish waters for over 30 years. The sharks have always been there and considering the huge numbers of people that live or holiday on Mediterranean shores, it’s remarkable how rare shark encounters are. Most species of shark in the Med prefer open water and feed on tuna (there aren’t many seals!) and so rarely come into contact with humans. Unfortunately, shark numbers have been declining and this has another not-so-positive consequence for swimmers: more jellyfish!

Jellyfish in the Mediterranean sea.

Jellyfish can be difficult to see in the water and contact with them can produce a very unpleasant sting. Fortunately, the stings from jellyfish in Mediterranean waters are not normally life-threatening unless (you guessed it) you have an allergy. If you do get stung do not rinse the affected area with fresh water, any form of alcohol or urine as this can re-stimulate the stingers. Vinegar is supposed to be the best immediate treatment (if you happen to have brought it with you to the beach!) and any clinging tentacles are best removed with tweezers or something “rough” like a towel. Even if you see a dead jellyfish washed up on a beach, don’t touch! The tentacles can still sting after death! We need more sharks!

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