Why are insects important? The simple answer is that they are part of the food chain and are useful in pollination. Of course there is a great deal more to the subject but to cover the whole area would take a book. For the purposes of this article it is better to concentrate on the basics and give a grounding from which further research can be launched.
Around 97% of invertebrate species on the planet are insects. There are still many species yet to be identified. Due to their sheer diversity and numbers it is almost impossible to know exactly how many insects are alive at any given moment.
Global warming has had an impact on insect populations. However it is difficult to know where the truth lies. Many sources report a decrease across the insect population in general. Others report an increase. Yet more point to both increase and decrease but specific to certain species. Honey bees have been a particular cause for concern in the UK and 8m was recently given to research into this matter.
Insects are everywhere. Even in one of the harshest places on Earth, the Arctic, there are insects, the Arctic Wooly Bear being one such example. Most insects seem to prefer warm and humid environments which may explain why there are so many varieties in the tropics.
The most important role of insects is in pollination. Flowering plants are the main source of food and moisture for many of the planets insects. Whilst they are feeding they pick up pollen on their bodies and legs. When they move to the next flower they deposit that pollen and pollination occurs. There are some plants that can only cross-pollinate with the aid of insects transferring pollen. The insects pollinate and new plants and harvests are produced.
Bees are important in this respect as they are one of the busiest pollinators. It is estimated that $1,590,000,000 of crops are pollinated by bees every year. Another interesting fact is that up to 30% of human food is generated by bee pollination.
Insects are also excellent workers of the soil. They keep it aerated by moving through it. Their efforts help to decompose fallen leaves, dead wood and animal droppings. In Australia they had a problem because of the lack of insects. The cows produced so much dung that the grass could not grow well. Dung beetles were introduced and the problem was solved.
The number of insects that produce or are a part of the process of making things that humans wear, eat or use regularly is enormous. To name a few – Silkworms providing silk, Indian Lac insects provide Lac (Shellac)which is an excellent insulator and can be found in inks, polishes, sealants and varnishes, Coccus Cacti provides us with the dye cochineal and Tannin is made from insect gall.
Fruit flies are used in genetic studies. This is because they have a lifespan of only ten days and can be studied in a short space of time. Insects are also a natural part of human death, helping to clean the body and break it down.
Insects have their downsides it’s true. They sting and bite and generally annoy us. They give us malaria and swamp fever, Lyme disease and the plague. However, through their industry and sheer weight of numbers their benefits far outweigh the diseases passed. Perhaps some of the treatments we now have for the diseases actually came from research done on insects. Even there they are useful.
Insects are eaten by birds which are in turn eaten by predators which are then eaten by larger hunters. The food chain is maintained which directly affects humans as we are a part of it too. At every turn there is an insect to be found quietly going about the business of keeping the planet turning and humans fed.
A final point which should not be overlooked is the beauty of insects. Yes there are ugly ones, who still have their place, but there are millions of beautiful insects. Think of butterflies, moths and shimmering dragonflies on a summer day or the colorful ladybug which is busy eating the aphids on your garden produce. Insects add beauty to the world whilst they work.