Get access

Size and dispersion of urticating setae in three species of processionary moths



Larvae of the processionary moths of the Palaearctic region bear urticating setae that are released against vertebrate predators, especially insectivorous birds. A few species are pests of forest and urban trees and, consequently, may threaten human and animal health during outbreaks, causing dermatitis, conjunctivitis and respiratory distress. Although some studies provide detailed information about the setae, particularly those of the pine processionary moth Thaumetopoea pityocampa, there is little knowledge on the morphological traits of the setae and their release by the larvae. In the present study we identify major traits of the setae of 3 species of processionary moth, T. pityocampa, T. pinivora and T. processionea, which are potentially helpful in the understanding of setae dynamics in the environment: (i) diameter and length of setae and (ii) analysis of dynamical properties of the setae in the airborne state. Setae are highly variable in size, with bimodal distribution in T. pityocampa and T. pinivora; in these 2 species, short and long setae are interspersed within the integument fields where they occur. The difference in the seta size has important consequences in dispersion, as smaller setae can spread 5 times further than their bigger counterparts. This information is relevant for a full understanding of the defensive importance of larval setae against natural enemies of the processionary moths, as well for elucidating the importance of the processionary setae as air pollutants, both close to the infested trees and at longer distances.