by Deidra Wirakusumah, Workshop Designer and Webinar Instructor
Insects are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. Insects can be found on every continent, and the number of known insect species is greater than that of all other known animal species combined! Truth be told, scientists believe they have only scratched the surface when it comes to discovering insect species, they say there are literally millions of other species left to discover.
Yet their success comes from more than just their sheer quantity. Insects are also the most diverse groups of animals. Some fly, others swim, some eat plants, while other hunt for prey, some survive by living near Us, while others survive by living in the most inhospitable of places. Actually, the diversity of insects has allowed them to not just survive, but thrive, in all sorts of environments. We are living in the age of insects, not humans. As it turns out, we need them much more than they need us.
Flower mantis, doing its environmental duty - in style:
What is it that insects do?
The short answer – as a group, practically everything.
Insects have been so successful as a group because they do the jobs that exist between what the large animals do, and what the microscopic animals do. They very often act as the bridge between these two worlds.
What is the role of insects in the environment?
Insects do all sorts of jobs in the environment. They do these things naturally, and not necessarily because they are told to do so. The result of these jobs not only benefit the insects themselves, but also the environment, plants, animals, and often, us.
Protein: One of the most important roles they fill, is as protein sources for many birds, lizards, spiders, carnivorous plants, mammals, frogs, fish, and other insects. Low in fats, filled with vitamins and proteins, and relatively easy to come by, insects make a tasty treat for all.
Decomposing: Between large scavengers and microscopic organisms in the soil, many insect species act as the bridge between these two worlds, increasing the efficiency that leaf litter, dead plants and animals, and feces can be broken down and their nutrients returned to the soil. Without insects we would soon be overrun with decaying debris!
Pollinating: We tend to think of bees and butterflies, and yes, they are very important pollinators, but did you know that ants, flies, wasps, beetles, and even mosquitos are pollinators as well? They help to fertilize plants, and most importantly for us, our food crops. In the U.S. alone insect pollinators are responsible for at least 100 different food crops. They are in integral part of our food system.
Parasitism: Maybe not what we would consider the most important of jobs, but parasitism is an important part of our functioning ecosystems. It helps to control overpopulation of plants and animals alike, and insects help with that process. They even help control other pest insects, think ladybugs eating aphids.
Many Many Many More: Since we have yet to discover and study millions of insect species, there is still much that we don’t know about what they do. What we do know? Earth without them would be a completely different, and likely dysfunctional place without them.
Ladybugs feasting on aphids and protecting our plants:
What makes insects so important?
We need them, but they don’t need us. It is estimated that insects have been on earth since the Devonian Era, when most of the land was still underwater. In fact, it is believed that insects like grasshoppers have hardly changed since the T. Rex was walking the earth!
Insects fill many roles in the environment that we cannot even fathom. They are the true recycling masters, turning every obstacle into an opportunity to thrive. They allow Earth, with a very limited set of resources, to support life, by helping both matter and energy flow and change so that it can be used by all of us living here.
Grasshoppers, unchanged since the age of dinosaurs:
Have you seen?
Check out the May 2020 issue from the National Geographic Magazine, highlighting the importance of insects in our ecosystem and to our way of life, and to the major challenges they face in a world of humans that do not understand or appreciate their contribution.