Living With False Beliefs

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillars
Photo: Asqueladd

The Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain contain a diversity of ecosystems including forests. The Spanish government has a Forestry Management Service that is responsible for the care and maintenance of forested areas. The forests are known for the Holm Oaks, majestic trees that are sometimes called “Holly Oaks” because they maintain leaves year round. Holm Oaks are not the only tree species native to the islands. Native pine trees, Pinus halepensis, are not as majestic but are the most numerous tree on the islands. The Forest Management Service manages pine trees for timber and as part of the natural ecosystem. However, in the public eye the pines are considered undesirable.

A study by a group of scientists found that many local residents maintained shockingly false beliefs about the pine trees. Some of the misinformation could be traced to textbooks used in schools. Other beliefs are related to misinterpretation of personal experience. The most prominent of the false beliefs is that the pines are not native to the islands, that they crowd out the Holm Oaks, that they are responsible for forest fires and that pine forests in general are unhealthy.  The belief that pine forests themselves are unhealthy may be related to personal experience people and their acquaintances have had with an insect, the pine processionary caterpillar. These caterpillars inhabit the pine forests of the island where they on occasion, produce substantial populations. The pine processionary caterpillars only feed on pine, are mostly encountered in the pine forests and rarely found elsewhere.. Contact with the caterpillars or the urticating hairs they shed into the environment can result in unpleasant allergic reactions. The hairs are small and difficult to see. People do not associate their allergic symptoms with the difficult to see hairs, but with the general forest habitat where they encountered the caterpillars or their hairs. Thus the belief that the pine forests are unhealthy. The conclusion of the report is that much education was needed for the population to appreciate the pine trees and the pine forest ecosystem.

Sureda-Negre J, Catala ́ n-Ferna ́ ndez A, Comas-Forgas R, Fagan G, Llabre ́ s-Bernat A. 2011. Perception of pine trees among citizens of the Balearic islands: analysis and description of some mistaken ideas. Appl. Environm. Educ. Commun. 10:31–42

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Caterpillar Blogging, Education, Environment, Health. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Living With False Beliefs

  1. Pingback: Living With False Beliefs – Entomo Planet

  2. Don Weber says:

    Please correct the name; I think your spell-checker has taken over. The caterpillar’s name is:
    pine processionary caterpillar. Thanks!

  3. jjneal says:

    Darn spell checkers

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