When we think about insects, many words come to mind annoying, icky, beautiful, ouch!
From houseflies, termites, and fleas, to roaches, dung beetles and maggots, to butterflies and dragonflies, to bees and wasps, what we should really be thinking is “abundant.”
Scientists have discovered about a million different types of insects, and they’re certain there are many millions more to be discovered and named. If you wrote the name of every insect in a book, and wrote the names of every other type of animal in another book, the insect book would have 20 times as many pages. When all the insects are finally discovered, their book could have 100 times as many pages.
There are so many ants and termites alone that, by themselves, they make up 20% of the weight of all the living animals on the planet!
If you could get all the animals in the world to stand in a straight line with just the beetles at the head of the line, and you started counting them off one-by-one, when you finished counting the beetles, you would be 25% through the line!
That there are so many insects is not surprising, given that the oldest fossil records of insects go back 320 million years.
The largest insect is a South American beetle, the Acteon Beetle. It’s about the same size as a chunk of 2×4 lumber two inches long. The longest is a Borneo stick insect, which can reach about 14 inches in length. The heaviest may be the African Goliath beetle, which can weigh nearly a quarter pound.
While you could probably live without those insects that annoy you personally those fleas, flies, ants, roaches, and termites insects definitely have their place in the world. There’s just too many of them, not to.
Insects’ roles can be based on the foods they eat. Those that eat plants are real pests. Some live on blood and are effective transmitters of disease, and we’d love to do without them, too.
But what about the insects that eat other insects? They should be heroes, shouldn’t they? Many others consume decaying plant and animal matter, performing a huge service to us all. Still others consume plant nectar, and in the process, immeasurably help our farmers produce bumper crops of the foods WE eat by pollinating the orchards and fields.
But perhaps one of their most important roles is the food they represent to other animals. In the food cycle, insects consume plant and animal matter, then become food for birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and small mammals. Certain insects can be delicacies in some human cultures, too.
Because of their major role in the food cycle, without insects, as pesky as they are, our environment would collapse. I don’t think we need to mount a “Save the Insects” campaign, though. They’re probably going to do all right for themselves for the next 320 million years, too.