For expats moving to Spain to live there are a lot of new things you will have to get used to. One of those is dealing with creatures you might never have seen before, nor even heard of. Of course there are the usual suspects when it comes to little bugs and insects, such as fleas, ticks, bedbugs and lice. You will come across wasps, bees, ants, mosquitoes and horse flies. Leave something sweet out in an uncovered state and before long you will find it covered in ants. In our villa we often found masonry ants, and king size ants outside. These are the types of creatures in Spain we might expect to find.In addition, there are some creatures which pose a real danger to the unsuspecting, and it is worth being forewarned about these.
One year where we lived the drains were not treated for cockroaches and we suffered. When the cockroaches hatched there were what seemed like thousands of them coming up from the drains, and we stood out on the footpath killing them as they tried to get inside the villa. The trouble is that cockroaches can fly, and although a few got past us we dealt with them in due course. Next door had a visitor in a rental car and he used the car as a weapon and ran over what cockroaches he could. Cockroaches are a health hazard because they can really smell vile, and spread germs to our food which can result in us being ill with food poisoning, sickness and diarrhoea. Some people have an allergy to cockroaches.
I have purposely omitted a lot of specific details about geographical areas where these creatures can be found. All can be seen all over Spain, though many will be more likely to be spotted in areas such as in wooded areas, or away from the sea, or close to stagnant water, in mountainous regions and so on. Also, although this site is about Spain, most if not all of these creatures can be found in other parts of the Mediterranean.
This list is not exhaustive, merely a look at some of the more common dangerous animals which you might come across. My advice is to ask the locals in the area you move to, to find out which beasties are particularly prevalent.
Living in Spain means that for a large part of the year barbecues are a regular occurrence. We would have one at least once a week in summer. And, as the weather is a bit more predictable than it is in the UK this meant that you could easily plan ahead for the next one several days ahead. Unfortunately though, all the local insects and mosquitoes thought they were invited along also. You could guarantee that if you ate outside, the mosquitoes would come visiting. This was why it was so important to cover food up as much as possible.
My wife, Joyce, was very prone to get bitten by mosquitoes, and whatever she did to prevent it nothing seemed to work. If you live in a mosquito infested area you could ask others what they find effective, and ask your pharmacy or doctor for advice. Creams are on sale which may be of some help in tackling the problem, though what works for one does not always for others. There are also many electrically activated repellents on sale which some find of help. Inside the house having air conditioning or a fan switched on can also help, as mosquitoes do not like air turbulance. For young children the use of an anti mosquito net over the bed at night can be very effective.
Sand flies love dogs. A disease called Canine leishmaniasis can be transmitted from dog to dog, and prevention is vital. Fortunately there are preventative collars which can be fitted to dogs to help protect them from sand flies. Try to keep your dog in at dusk and dawn when sand flies are most active. Canine leishmaniasis can be fatal to dogs, so it is important to know about this disease, and how to recognise the symptoms. These include loss of appetite, fur loss, nose bleeds, chronic diarrhoea, and weight loss. In time the animal can suffer from anaemia, lameness, and finally kidney failure and death. Although humans can get leishmaniasis it is more common in less developed parts of the world. Depending on the strain, this disease can cause sores, skin lesions, ulcers, and even prove fatal if not treated. At the moment no vaccines are available, though they are being worked on. The name sand fly is a bit misleading, as they are normally not found near the sea, but more in gardens and wooded areas.
In Spain more people die from such things as insect stings than they do from snake bites. You are more likely to come in to contact with insects than snakes, and some people are allergic to insect venom. A person who has been stung by an insect should seek immediate medical help if he/she shows signs of an allergic reaction, such as bad swelling, breathing difficulties, rapid pulse rate. Although precise figures are hard to come by, it is thought that of the of the roughly 50 snakebite deaths a year in all of Europe, only a handful occur in Spain. Of the 13 kinds of snakes living in Spain, just 5 are venomous. Most of these snakes are found in heavily wooded or mountainous areas.
Non-venomous snakes include the Grass Snake, Smooth Snake, Ladder Snake and types of Whip Snakes.
Venomous snakes to be found in Spain and other parts of the region are Baskian Viper (found in the North of Spain), Asp Viper, The Montpellier Snake, Lataste’s viper, and the False Smooth snake.
In Spain there are over 1,600 species of spider, yet very few are capable of causing fatalities. Black Widow spiders are found in Spain, known as the Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus). The bite from this spider can be fatal, but usually to small children, and the elderly. Usually though most people who get bitten have no nasty long term effects. There are two or three other less common spiders which also carry venom.
We found spiders in the garden which actually appeared quite threatening. They reared up and pointed their fangs at us if we approached them. I never did find out which kind of spider they were though.
The most common scorpion in Spain is the Mediterranean scorpion, but the European black scorpion is also present, though it tends to live more in northerly, wetter parts. Scorpions are not considered rare in some parts of Spain. Both the common varieties of scorpion can give you a very nasty sting. For those people who go hiking it is a good idea to wear boots and thick socks.
Pine processionary caterpillars live, as their name suggests, in pine trees. Unlike the caterpillars we might be used to in the UK, Pine processionary caterpillars are very nasty! Never touch one, as their hairs can cause an extremely nasty allergic skin reaction. There have been cases where people have actually gone blind for a short while due to rubbing their eyes after picking them up. Pine processionary caterpillars live in silvery nests in pine trees all through Mediterranean Spain. Their name comes from the head-to-tail trails they form as they move across land, usually in the evening time as they go from one pine tree to the next. Dogs are at particular risk from the pine processionary caterpillars due to their inquisitive nature. They sniff around these caterpillars and can inhale or lick the hairs. I have read of situations where the tongues of dogs have had to be amputated due to the damage done. It is in the early part of the year you see their nests hanging on pine tree branches like big cotton wool balls. Workers from local authorities have to wear protective clothing when they remove and burn them. My advice is, if at all possible, ignore Pine processionary caterpillars, otherwise you could end up doing yourself some serious damage to your health.
There is also something called a Megarian Banded Centipede (Scolopendra cingulata). It is black and yellow, grows up to 15 cm long and will give you a very nasty sting, which some describe as similar to a bee or wasp sting. The Megarian Banded Centipede is aggressive, active and moves incredibly fast. This creature is carnivorous, and has a bite which paralyses its prey. The poison is injected via its front feelers. To humans although not fatal, its bite is painful and can cause severe inflammation and swelling in the affected part of the body.
The bite of the Megarian Banded Centipede may, in extreme cases, even result in anaphylactic shock, which always requires medical attention. It uses its bite in its defence of itself also. It usually rests under rocks and stones, coming out more during the night time. I have read of several instances of where people have been out in the garden and a Megarian Banded Centipede has crawled up their legs. Not a pleasant experience, especially if it decides to bite.
Antihistamine cream may help to relieve the pain and the itching.
Back in 2010 there was an invasion of jellyfish upon the shores of parts of the Spanish mainland. But, even in normal times jellyfish are something to be aware of when bathing in the sea. The main beaches which were affected were in Alicante, in the south east, and near San Sebastian, on Spain’s northern coast. The jellyfish invasion was mainly made up of Mauve Stinger jellyfish, box jellyfish and Portuguese Man O’War.
Well over a thousand people were reported to have been stung, with emergency treatment by lifeguards of ammonia poured on the affected areas of the body. Some people use vinegar poured over the skin. The problem sometimes isn’t just in the nasty stinging though. It’s the severe allergic reaction that can follow,such as difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or swelling of the mouth and airway.
Some scientists suggest that climate change and overfishing of the natural predators of jellyfish such as tuna and turtle is mostly to blame on these invasions.
The situation in parts of the Mediterranean Sea has got so bad that in June 2013 some places were considering ‘fencing’ off parts of the sea to protect swimmers against the jellyfish.
In Spain, the Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona detected a surge in the spring of 2013 in one of the most poisonous species, the mauve stinger or Pelagia Noctiluca, along the coast of Catalonia and Valencia.
Of course there is a lot of beauty to be appreciated and enjoyed in Spain’s countryside