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Invertebrate: Caterpillars, Processionary

Find, identify & discuss the insects of SANParks
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Invertebrate: Caterpillars, Processionary

Unread postby Meinfam » Mon Nov 14, 2005 6:48 pm


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Unread postby Meinfam » Mon Nov 14, 2005 7:22 pm

This is the longest we have seen so far


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Unread postby Imberbe » Mon Nov 14, 2005 10:49 pm

These are members of the family Thaumetopoeidae (Processionary worms). There are nine species in Southern Africa, and in the KNP they occur only south of the Olifants River. The most common type is Anaphe reticulata.

The catterpillars form long "trains" when moving from one food source to another. The catterpillars walk touching the one in front and will stop abbruptly when one loose contact whith the one in front. These group can be up to 600 strong, but is usually a lot less.

When pupating they spin a silk envelope over the entire group. In this each larvae spin its own cocoon. You often see this spongy mass in hidden corners.

The highly attractive adult moths is short lived.
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Processionary caterpillars

Unread postby Jumbo » Mon Jul 03, 2006 8:13 am

During Zebra and my last Kruger visit, beginning of June, we encountered these worms walking in a line Zebra’s trip report

Yesterday afternoon at Marloth we saw them again. I almost had a hart attack because from afar it seemed to be a massive white snake. :shock:

Enlarge photo to see better


They were making there way up into on of our Knob-thorn trees. We unfortunately did not have the time to see what they planned to do in the tree….. I will have a look next weekend.


Do any of you have an idea as to what type of worms these are and why they display this behaviour? Might it be to put off predators? They do look like one big snake…. :?

Edited to change heading
Last edited by Jumbo on Mon Jul 03, 2006 8:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Strange Worms?

Unread postby Jakkalsbessie » Mon Jul 03, 2006 8:37 am

They are called Processionary caterpillars /worms. There are 2 'believes' about this walking in a line... 1 is to find food. each caterpillar leaves a strong strand of silk behind them and those that follow walk along the line of silk.
So they are literally creating a silk road that helps keep the line together (the thread left by the leader makes it easier for the followers to keep to the straight and narrow)

And the second one is as you guessed to put off predators.
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Unread postby Ranger Piet » Mon Jul 03, 2006 10:31 am

I believe it might be more complex than following a strand of silk. (Admittedly only based on one observation of the caterpillars.)


What I observed one day while taking pictures is that when the line breaks for some reason (in that case caused by me moving a branch out of the line of sight of my camera) the whole procession comes to a halt.


The last caterpillar in the front line immediately halted and this caused a chain reaction of stopping all the way to the first caterpillar. The front caterpillar of the bakc line (the one that lost touch with its predecessor started slowly searching left and right until it connected with the one in front again and from there the whole train got moving again.

This leads me to believe there is (in addition to the silk thread maybe?) some form of tacticle or scent based mechanism involved in keeping the chain intact.
Last edited by Elsa on Fri Jun 13, 2014 4:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: pic resized.

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Re: Processionary caterpillars

Unread postby Nannie » Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:06 pm

The adult processionary moth.


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Re: Insect ID needed

Unread postby Magic Guarri » Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:54 pm

Does anybody knows the ID of these caterpillars?


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KNP Road Block???

Unread postby JaneBecker » Tue Oct 19, 2010 1:22 pm

Hi Mites. Does anyone know if this really happened? received from my son with no references or dates.

Jane (Hope the pics pasted as well, if not I will try another route)

This is the moment a group of tiny caterpillars formed an incredible 17ft long convoy to cross a road in the Kruger National Park.

Some 136 caterpillars made the single line and wriggled top-to-toe across the road, linked by a thin silk thread which set their path.

And their safety-in-numbers approach had the desired effect as the slow-moving convoy was easily seen by motorists, who were held up for 20 minutes as it made its way across.

Bumper to bumper: This slow moving convoy of migrating caterpillars was spotted in the Kruger National Park by Jamie Rooney, from High Wycombe, Bucks

The spectacle was captured on camera by British tourist Jamie Rooney, who was visiting the famous Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Jamie, from High Wycombe, Bucks, was in a Jeep full of tourists when their driver slammed the brakes just inches from the crawling caterpillars.

Jamie, 38, who works in website sales, said: "It was an incredible sight.

'We were out driving in Kruger National Park for a safari, when all of a sudden the driver shouted out and slammed on his brakes.'

'He managed to stop just in time in front of this amazing trail of caterpillars, which was stretching across the road.'

'Conservation is a massive deal in South Africa and the idea is that if there is any living creature in the road you have to wait patiently until it is safely across.'

'We got out to get a closer look and counted 136 caterpillars in convoy, all moving together across the track.'

'They were following a very, very thin silk thread on the ground and it took them about 20 minutes to get across the road safely.'

'Our guide had never seen it before, but he'd heard about it and explained they were migrating into the bush where they would disperse.'

'It's like the mass migration of bigger animals like wildebeest, but on a different scale and pace.'

'When they arrive in the bush, they turn into chrysalis and then butterflies.'

'It's a rare sight. It was an absolute joy to watch and a great experience to be able to get down close and see it first hand.'

This incredible convoy is the ultimate commuter train - a trail of tiny caterpillars heading off into the bush. An amazing 136 caterpillars wriggled top-to-toe across
a road on their migratory route in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Hold up: Traffic stopped while the slow-moving caterpillar convoy crossed the road

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Re: KNP Road Block???

Unread postby moggiedog » Tue Oct 19, 2010 1:35 pm

I received the same mail from a friend.
I honestly do not know if this is a genuine story - but I have seen these caterpillar - I think they are called processionary caterpillar/worms. I was hiking at the time and there were far too many to think of counting. I did manage to get some shots of them on a tree stump.


here is another link on the forum
{Edit by DQ, merged the topics, so that link doesn't work anymore.}
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Re: Processionary caterpillars

Unread postby BushFairy » Tue Oct 19, 2010 1:59 pm

Jane, I also received the email - here are the pics :D
I have seen this before, fascinating!


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Re: Processionary caterpillars

Unread postby michel367 » Thu Dec 23, 2010 9:30 am

It is a wonderful experience to see these worms.

They can cause a huge discomfort as the hairs can cause a very severe burning pain when you come in contact with it.
In Holland these worms are particular to Oak trees and when summer comes they nest in the Oak trees alongside the roads by the millions.
When driving underneath those trees the hairs enter the cars via the air-con or air freshening system and cause great discomfort for the driver and passengers.
They get rid of them by using an overgrown vacuum cleaner and suck all the worms from the trees.

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Re: Processionary caterpillars

Unread postby ndloti » Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:40 am


Somewhere up north about 20 years ago .
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Re: Invertebrate: Caterpillars, Processionary

Unread postby Elsa » Fri Jun 13, 2014 4:27 pm

Just found this pic of some Processionary worms we found at Lower Sabie in a tree right next to the walkway leading down to reception and the shop.

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Re: Invertebrate: Caterpillars, Processionary

Unread postby ecojunkie » Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:45 pm

I have seen a lot of these around recently, especially in Skukuza and Berg en Dal.
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