A wet winter in France and the Pine Processionary caterpillar


Chenille processionnaire in a line.

Chenille processionnaire forming a line.

January and February 2014 are shaping up to be one of the warmest winters on record for France. Heavy rainfall led to flooding in the South of France (Aquitaine and separately Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) and Brittany (the meteorological vigilance for the Finistère region was just recently removed). In Toulouse, the ground has been so saturated that moss is starting to grow everywhere, even on the parking lot at work. In case you were wondering, the French word for moss is mousse, which is also the same word for foam, as in the chocolate mousse that we all know and love.

February is also the month when the Pine Processionary caterpillar (chenille processionnaire) makes its apparition. What makes these insects so remarkable is that they when they leave their nests to pupate, the follow each other in a neat head-to-tail line. You can see them on the ground following each other in groups with as many as a few dozen individuals – I see them on my way to the cafeteria at work. Pine processionary caterpillars are hairy, but unlike the friendly woolly bear, they have irritating hairs that can invoke serious allergic reactions in some individuals, so be sure to look but not touch. One of their few natural predators is the very cute Great Tit (mésange chabonnière).

Mésange charbonnière. Photo credit: Marek Szczepanek.

Mésange charbonnière. Photo credit: Marek Szczepanek.

I hope this little post will inspire you to take a look at the flora and fauna in your neck of the woods. Writing it has certainly helped to take my mind of things like politics and money troubles in order to concentrate on the world around me and to appreciate my life here in France.

Until next time, au revoir.


Great place to visit: Southern California and the Central Coast

The Grover Beach coastline.

The Grover Beach coastline.

For our honeymoon, we decided to visit my home state over the winter holidays. Our road trip included stops in Universal Studios, Santa Barbara, the Grover Beach butterfly grove, Monterey and Carmel. While Los Angeles has its characteristic showbiz feel, the Pacific Highway takes you winding up a wild coast line that looks much the same as it did 30 or 40 years ago, minus a few McMansions. California has a little something for everyone whether you like the glitter and glamour of Hollywood or the natural beauty of the Central and North coast.
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