11 “Dangerous” Creatures
in Catalunya

🕔 11 mins (total)
Assorted creepy-crawlies of Catalunya!
Assorted creepy-crawlies of Catalunya!

Wild boar have made a nuisance of themselves here in Girona province and have even become a danger on the roads, but other than the wild boar, are there any creatures in Catalunya, big or small, that pose a threat or danger to us?

The main worry is hitting a wild boar while driving, which is really not good for anyone; not for the boar, nor the human, nor the vehicle – and the number of accidents involving wild boar has been increasing significantly along with their population. Other than the boar, though, there are very few animals that pose any kind of serious threat to us in these parts, but there are a couple that are worth mentioning.

“Dangerous” creatures

Processionary caterpillars

The reality is that there are almost no “dangerous” creatures in Catalunya as such, at least not to humans anyway, but these fuzzy characters top the list as they can be extremely harmful – even fatal – to your dog or cat. Processionary (or ‘pine’) caterpillars appear in the region in springtime – 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 who comes in contact. The resulting rash can last for weeks and can make children, in particular, quite sick.

A group of processionary caterpillars is best avoided
A group of processionary caterpillars is best avoided

As we said, the main risk is to your pets, and they can even be fatal to dogs and cats, or other small animals. If the spring temperatures happen to be higher than average, the caterpillars can appear in especially high numbers. 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 and do not let your pet near them! If you happen to discover a nest on your property, the recommendation is that you cut off the branch the nest is on and burn it. An even better recommendation is to callCarlos and have their guys deal with it.

Processionary caterpillars aren’t the smartest, though. Well over a century ago, a French naturalist called Jean-Henri Fabre arranged a group of these caterpillars into a full circle around the bottom of a flowerpot to test their urge to follow one another in single file, head-to-tail. They followed each other in a circle around the flower pot for seven days! We’re not sure whether, after the seven days, Jean-Henri couldn’t take it anymore and broke up the line or whether the caterpillars finally copped on. We reckon it was probably J-H and that the caterpillars would still be going today if he hadn’t stopped them!


Sandfly

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 definitely better than a cure in this case as there is no cure at present, so fitting your pet with a preventative collar during the season is the best strategy.

Magnified image of a small sandfly on a leaf
Magnified image of a small sandfly on a leaf

Tick

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

An extreme closeup of a tick
An extreme closeup of a tick

There are plenty of other insects that can sting, such as wasps 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 anaphylactic shock, so do not hesitate – call an ambulance! Better safe than sorry.


Asian wasp/hornet

Scientifically named vespa velutina, these insects are something to be a bit more concerned about than ‘regular’ wasps. Although not yet common in Catalunya they have been sighted, and there are fears that this species is gradually spreading across the Iberian Peninsula. They first arrived in Spain in Galicia, where they caused one fatality, along with another in Asturias, and appear to be spreading out in every direction.

Originally from S.E. Asia, they have invaded many regions around the world, and although they are not aggressive and only attack en masse if their nest is threatened, they have been declared a pest in many countries. Although they could be classified as somewhat dangerous, the main peril is not to humans but rather to bees.

The eastern honey bee, which it preys upon in its native habitat in Asia, has evolved a strategy to avoid it (too long to go into here), but our European western honey bee has no such defense. If you think you recognize one (or some) of these hornets, try to take a photo if you think it safe to do so, but do not approach in case there’s a nest. Then callCarlos immediately, and we’ll get the pest control guys out!

A nest of Asian wasps
A nest of Asian wasps

Snakes

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 make them dangerous to most humans. In fact, more people die from wasp and bee stings than snakebites. The wisest course of action if you come across a snake of any kind is to give it a wide berth, both for your own sake as well as for the snake’s. Just leave ‘em alone!!

If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten, try to snap a photo of the snake for identification purposes or at least get a good look, stay as calm as possible, and seek medical assistance immediately.

The False Smooth Snake is not aggressive. But whichever snake you see, just stay away!
The False Smooth Snake is not aggressive. But whichever snake you see, just stay away!

Scorpions

Not much to worry about here… Although there are some species of both that can bite or sting, they are not particularly dangerous, except for people with certain allergies. 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 another great idea to give it a good shake in case of any uninvited creepy crawlies taking up temporary residence within overnight.

A scorpion in a defensive position
A scorpion in a defensive position

Shark!!!

Yes, there are sharks in the Mediterranean – almost 50 species of them altogether! A 2.5-metre-long bluntnose sixgill shark, often simply referred to as the cow shark (not dangerous to humans), was washed up on Es Monestri beach in Sant Antoni de Calonge in February 2023. A 5m Great White Shark was even spotted off the coast of Mallorca in 2018 – the first confirmed sighting in Spanish waters for over 30 years.

The sharks have always been here in the Med, 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 Mediterranean 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 a not-so-positive consequence for swimmers: more jellyfish!

Great white sharks do live in the Mediterranean but are very, very rarely seen.
Great white sharks do live in the Mediterranean but are very, very rarely seen.

Jellyfish

These strange creatures 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 rarely life-threatening unless (you guessed it) you have an allergy. The Australian Box Jellyfish – now that would be a different story. Those guys are considered amongst the most dangerous creatures on the planet, but thankfully, they live up to their name and stick to northern Australia and Indonesia.

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 it with you at 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 it, as the tentacles can still sting after death. We need more sharks!

A jellyfish in the Mediterranean
A jellyfish in the Mediterranean

Spiders

There are a few species of spiders that are venomous but not really dangerous, as none carry enough venom to worry humans unless you happen to have the wrong type of allergy.

Latrodectus Tredecimguttatus

Scary name! This spider is commonly referred to as the European or Mediterranean Black Widow, and as its name suggests, the female is probably far more dangerous to her mate than to any of us. In fact, only the female is even capable of biting a human, and although such a bite is painful, it is not a common occurrence and is rarely fatal to humans, although it can be dangerous to the very young, elderly, or those with weak hearts. These spiders are found all around the Mediterranean and in western Asia.

Latrodectus Tredecimguttatus, also known as the Mediterranean or European black widow
Latrodectus Tredecimguttatus, also known as the Mediterranean or European black widow

Violin Spider

Its Latin name is loxosceles rufescens and in Spanish it’s called the araña violín, or ‘violin spider’, due to the markings on its back. Also known as the Mediterranean Recluse Spider, it is native to all the lands around the Mediterranean and it is just one of a very long list of “recluse spiders”, most of which are from Africa and the Americas, both South and North. Their name is apt as they like to look for dark hidden corners to weave their webs. Despite millennia of cohabiting the Med with humans, there has only been one fatality suspected (though unconfirmed) of having been caused by a violin spider bite.

A camouflaged Violin spider (Loxosceles Reclusa)
A camouflaged Violin spider (Loxosceles Reclusa)

Lycosa Tarantula

This one sounds scarier than it is – and there’s a story behind that! This spider is native to southern Europe and is especially common in Italy and, more spefically, around the city of Taranto, which gave it its name: tarantula. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they came across spiders far bigger than any they had ever seen at home, and they called them tarantulas after the biggest spider they had known up to then: the lycosa tarantula.

Since then, the American giants hogged the new name all for themselves, and the European species was “downgraded” to become known as the (tarantula) wolf spider, or araña lobo in Spanish. They have very good eyesight and tend to flee when any large animals, like humans, approach. Their venom is also weak, and if you were to get bitten, it would feel no worse than a wasp sting.

Frontal view of a Wolf Spider (Lycosa Tarantula)
Frontal view of a Wolf Spider (Lycosa Tarantula)

Spanish Funnel-Web Spider

If you have ever been to Australia you’ve probably heard about the funnel-web spider from Down Under that has a vicious bite and has killed humans in the past (though not for a long time, thanks to improved first aid). Do not be alarmed! The Spanish version, although large and a bit fearsome-looking, has a venom that is not dangerous to humans. We only include it to let you know there’s nothing to worry about, despite its shared name with its Aussie cousin! (What is it with Australia and dangerous animals anyway?)

A close-up of a Spanish Funnel-Web Spider (Macrothele Calpeiana)
A close-up of a Spanish Funnel-Web Spider (Macrothele Calpeiana)

Stinkbugs

Yep, you read correctly: stinkbugs! This is another invader from Asia, known scientifically as Halyomorpha Halys or the “brown marmorated stink bug”, and it has recently been spotted in Girona. It doesn’t bite or sting, it’s not poisonous, and is not in any way dangerous to people, but we included it in this blog as it can do lots of damage to crops and gardens. In winter, they tend to hibernate in people’s houses, hiding in any crevice they can fit into to wait for the spring.

Sometimes, however, the warmth of the house will cause them to become active again too soon, and they make nuisances of themselves flying around lights and not wanting to go outside – and then when they do go outside, they start eating your garden. It’s not a good idea to try and stamp on them or even move them on as disturbing them will cause them to release their horrible defensive odour. They didn’t get the name stinkbug for nothing!

A smelly brown stinkbug (Halyomorpha Halys)
A smelly brown stinkbug (Halyomorpha Halys)

And last, but by no means least: Mosquitos

Mosquitos, which literally means ‘little flies’ in Castellano (mosquits in Catalan) have been around for over 30 million years and they are a nuisance rather than dangerous – at least in this part of the world. (Malaria was eradicated from Spain well over a half-century ago.)

While most people will never come across most of the “dangerous” creatures mentioned above, we are all only too familiar with the mosquito and its irritating bite. It’s actually only the female that bites, using a sharp “proboscis” (from Greek “pro” (before/forward) and “bosko” (to feed), and her saliva, which contains an anticoagulant protein to prevent your blood from clotting. Once she has had her fill of your blood and has gone, some of her saliva remains in the skin, causing itching and provoking a response from your immune system, which causes the red bump that continues itching until your immune cells break down the saliva protein.

There are various theories as to what attracts or repels mosquitos. Some argue that certain blood types attract them, while others claim that they bite everyone and anyone but that some people just have a far milder reaction than others. It is more generally agreed that mosquitoes do seem to like perfumes and scented deodorants while they are far less attracted by the smell of human sweat – so best just stay smelly! Some people believe they like blood with alcohol, while others insist that drinking alcohol – especially gin + tonic – helps repel them. (We know which of those two theories we prefer!)

Close up of an Asian Tiger Mosquito sucking human blood
Close-up of an Asian Tiger Mosquito sucking human blood

What is known for sure is that they are attracted by stagnant water (where they also reproduce) and are more likely to bite people wearing dark colors. Citronella candles may help keep mosquitoes away outdoors if there isn’t much of a breeze, although their range is limited. Indoors, try cutting a lemon in half, sticking some cloves into each half, and allowing them to dry out. It repels mozzies and also smells lovely, but again, it only works short-range.

Wearing long sleeves and trousers at dusk, when mozzies are most active, hanging mozzie nets, or using fans to keep them away (they’re not strong flyers) are all logical and effective solutions but not always practical. Mozzie-repellent sprays containing DEET or Picaridin work very well but might not suit everyone’s skin. DEET, in particular, can cause irritation to some people and has even been known to corrode footwear made from synthetic materials such as plastic and rubber.

Picaridin hasn’t been around as long and isn’t as well-known, but it is as, if not more, effective than DEET and isn’t in any way corrosive. Ask your local pharmacy. You can also try synthesized oils made from eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree or citronella, which are more natural, although they tend not to last as long as repellents.

If you do get bitten, try applying lip balm, cool aloe vera gel or essential lavender oils to the affected area; the latter having the added bonus of also being a repellent. If you have none of those to hand then rub a little of your own saliva on the bite or press the back of a hot spoon on it to relieve the itching.

If you come across any ‘critters’ you suspect might be of concern, please feel free to callCarlos and we can get our experts out to investigate and, if necessary, remove the ‘offenders’ safely.

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