Insects are amazing organisms; they are colorful, like the ancient dragonflies; some oddly shaped, like pre-historic walking sticks; some can fly, others crawl, a few skip and many sing; and thankfully, they are plentiful. Insects are vital in our natural world and in the quality of our lives.
According to one source, the known insects species number 751,000, and counting every year as new species are discovered. The recorded species, in other words, comprise nearly 72 percent of all of the known animal species on the planet. Other estimates indicate an even larger presence of insects which are found even in the harshest conditions found on earth. Whatever he numerical estimates, it is widely believed that we are unaware of hundreds of thousands of other insect species which inhabit the planet. We live with a lot of bugs.
Perhaps for mankind, the most important role of the insect kingdom is the production of our food supply. While even those estimates vary, it is generally accepted that, at the very least, every third bite of food we eat is the result of insect pollination.
The non-native honeybees (in North America) are the best known insect pollinators responsible of much of the foods we find every day at the kitchen table. The species has been the focus of attention as their numbers continue to decline because of a fatal and still mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. Honeybees are largely responsible for pollinating an enormous number of different food crops such as carrots and broccoli, squash and almonds, to blueberries and apples.
There are other insect pollinators, native bees which are also responsible for helping produce our food crops. The best known are likely the bumblebee and the orchard bees. However, there are over 4,000 species of native bees, many of them solitary, which help, along with other insects, to pollinate our food crops.
The pollinating insects also help to produce wild food source essential to other animals such as wild apples and berries. Without the vital pollinators, much of our natural wildlife, would be at serious risk of extinction.
Native plants have a long, long relationship with the little understood insect kingdom and the two species have developed unique and fascinating relationship. For example, the the exotic Jack in the Pulpit plants, native to North America, rely heavily on the fungus flies (or gnats) for reproduction. The flowers of this plant, found deep inside the tube emit an aroma which attracts the flies. The flies then become trapped deep inside because of the structure of the plant which allows more light at the bottom of the tube. The flies, seeking a way out, seek the light source at the bottom of the tube, pollinating the flowers as they try to escape.
While insects are responsible for many life forms on the planet, they also can be inspirational and create a sense of wonder and awe. Fireflies on a warm summer night can raise the human spirit as they flicker across silent nocturnal fields under a starry sky. There are some 2,000 species of this winged beetle found around the globe and some of those actually do not glow as adults. For all of our technology and research, scientists still do not have a complete understanding of this complex insect and exactly why and how they can turn off and on their lights.
Dragonflies are another species of insects which have often inspired mankind with their vibrant colors and hovering. Worldwide there are an estimated 5,000 species, with 500 species found in North America. A dragonfly is an amazing creature to watch hovering over a pond on a warm summer afternoon and are even more revered in some Asian cultures like China and Japan.
The ancient Dragonfly, some fossil date back to 300 million years, is a respected insect in Japan. The island itself is often called Akitsushima or Dragonfly Island. In Japanese mythology Shoryo tombo, or the Dragonfly of Death carries the spirit of departed ancestors back to families during the festival of Bon.
While insects can inspire and awe, some are useful in silk production and Shellac. Others are useful for law enforcement and research. Forensic entomology is a useful and important tool in determining location, causes and times of death. Certain insects are only found in certain areas helping to determine a location of death, others can be used to help determine a narrow time frame of death because of their activity.
The insect world has also brought havoc, suffering and death throughout world history. Some of the worst plagues known to mankind are directly related to the insect world. Many of these scourges have changed the course of human history, a deeper understanding of our natural world and our roles within that environment. It is likely some species will never be considered for sainthood.
On the flip side, other insects are important in scientific research such as the fruit fly, widely used in genetic studies and research. It would stand to reason, as we continue to explore and discover our natural world, other beneficial insects exist but remain unknown awaiting discovery.
The insect world is huge and diverse. Mankind’s relationship with insects determines our quality of life and even our very existence. The foods we eat, the culture we enjoy, the magic of the natural world which inspires, the painful history we have endured, are all dependent on the strange, unknown and wonderful world of bugs.