Bugs. Creepy crawlers. Biters. Stingers. Uck and nasty. People hate them, are scared of them, and spray tons of poison at them every year. But what are they really? Insects.
What is an insect? Insects are invertebrates (meaning, without a backbone) and arthropods, which means “joined limb”. They all have six legs, at least as adults. Most can fly and have two pair of wings (although many have one pair, and some have lost their wings entirely). There are over a million identified species of insects and anywhere from five to 20 million more not identified. In comparison there are less than 6,000 mammals, and less than 60,000 total vertebrate species. There are more species of insects than all other animals combined. In biomass they completely outweigh all other animals, and it is estimated that ants and termites alone make-up 1/5 of all land animal biomass.
Without them we would be up to our eyeballs in rotting vegetation, dead animals and feces. They aerate our soil so we can plant food. They fertilize some of our favorite foods like apples, almonds and even onions. Honey bees alone are responsible for up to 1/3 of the food we eat. All our land ecosystems would collapse without them, and many of our fresh water aquatic ones. Many birds, bats, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, and mammals have to eat them in order to reproduce, even many of our fruit and seed-eating birds feed them to their young. If all insects died tomorrow, all humans, and most other animals would soon die out. If humans all died tomorrow, the insects would barely notice.
The largest insects are probably the Titan Beetle, with the Giant Weta close behind. The fastest is the Robber fly, and the smallest is the Fairy wasp (nearly 1/10 of a millimeter or smaller than some amoebas). The Fairy wasp is so small it “swims” through the air rather than flying.
The Parklands at Floyds Fork has a very healthy populations of insects from the ever present grasshopper to dragonflies and different types of bees. In fact, part of the reason The Parklands has such a healthy ecosystem is because insects are accepted and not killed off just to reduce their annoyance level.
And if you ever see me with my net and pith helmet, don’t hesitate to stop me and ask questions about insects. That is one subject that doesn’t bug me at all.
Photos and story by Russ McIntyre, Parklands Intern/Volunteer.