It might surprise you to know, but insects, those tiny pesky creatures capable of ruining a picnic, are more beneficial to the planet than are humans. Of all the known life forms currently on Earth, more than half are insects. Insects have been around since before the dinosaurs, and will very likely out survive us.
Insects are arthropods, they have a hard exoskeleton, and their body is divided up into three segments. They have six legs, and a pair of antennae. All insects develop and grow by moulting. Spiders are not insects. The most commonly known insects are ants, bees, grasshoppers, and beetles, although there are many more.
When we ask ourselves how insects are beneficial, we often imply, how are they beneficial to us. Certainly not every insect is beneficial to humans, some are parasitic and benefit themselves only.
The largest recognizable benefit of insects to humans, and other life, is by pollination of plants. Many species of flowering plants owe their very existence to insect pollinators. It has been said that without the bee, or ant, other lifeforms would soon parish due to starvation as we would see a marked decline in available fruits and vegetables. Had insects not evolved when they did, we would not have the biodiversity we do today.
One of the most overlooked uses for insects, at least in the United States, has been as a food source. Insects convert plant matter into protein far more efficiently than do cattle or any other form of livestock. The keeping, and raising of insects for food, also requires less space and effort, than do other production systems. Insects are eaten regularly as part of the diet in many places of the world and certainly were beneficial as food for early man.
Insects also serve as an important food source for other animals, such as fish and birds. Even larger animals such as coyotes and bears will eat grasshoppers, and other insects, as a protein source. Some of the insects that we view as parasitic, such as ticks, are a food source for birds.
Insects also are important for their role in decomposition. Many species of insects, especially fly maggots, and beetles, feed on dead animals and plant matter, breaking it down to make topsoil, a nutrient rich soil important for plant growth. Without topsoil many plant species would not have evolved. If insects did not help the decomposition of plant matter, the forest floor would be non-existent under years deep worth of plant litter. Nothing would be able to grow.
Insects also keep their own populations in check by eating each other. Such insects as the praying mantis, ladybird beetle, and dragonfly, are often seen as beneficial to the gardener because they eat other insects and garden pests. By using these insects, rather than chemical pesticides we can keep our environment healthier.
Ultimately it is the role of every species to preserve its own kind, although it may have other direct benefits to other species, such as our own, this is not its goal. All species evolved somewhat symbiotic relationships with others which we must maintain. It is time we also saw that all insects, even pesky ants, serve an important role in the ecosystem. The loss of any one animal, be it a large beautiful mammal, or a tiny seemingly insignificant insect, should be viewed as a serious matter. Without some species of insects we, as humans, will not survive.