Although insects are commonly thought of as pests in just about every region of the world, one must take the time to realise their benefits in our everyday lives. Without insects operating dutifully about their eco systems, our world would be a very different place than the one we enjoy.
Insects perform a vast number of important functions in our eco system. They aerate the soil, pollinate blossoms and control plant pests. They also decompose dead materials, thereby reintroducing nutrients into the soil. Burrowing bugs such as ants and beetles dig tunnels that provide channels for water thereby benefiting plants. Bees play a major role in pollinating fruit trees and flower blossoms. In fact they perform a vast number of vital functions in our eco systems. They provide foods for many birds, mammals, and fishes on which fishing and hunting depends. Finally, all insects fertilise the soil with the nutrients from their droppings.
Insects are arthropods, they have a hard exo skeleton, and their body is divided into three segments. They have six legs, and a pair of antennae. All insects develop and grow by moulting. Spiders are not insects. The most commonly known insects are ants, bees, grasshoppers, and beetles, although there are many more.
Insects are every where. Ten years ago there were approximately 750,000 named insect species. Today, that number is over 1,000,000. And according to a recent article in Scientific American, entomologists estimate that there are likely over eight million different species of insects on Earth. Infact they ‘out-populate’ any other living taxonomic group on Earth. Many are yet to be discovered. They are found in every environment. But majority of insects are found in the warm and moist tropics.
Insects feed on a seemingly endless array of foods. Many insects are omnivorous, meaning that they can eat a variety of foods including plants, fungi, dead animals, decaying organic matter, and nearly anything they encounter in their environment. Still others are specialists in their diet, which means they may rely only on one particular plant or even one specific part of one particular plant to survive.
Many insects are predatory or parasitic, either on plants or on other insects or animals, including people. Such insects are important in nature to help keep pest populations (insects or weeds) at a tolerable level. We call this the balance of nature.
They are under-appreciated for their role in the food web. They are the sole food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Insects themselves are harvested and eaten by people in some cultures. They are a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and are prized as delicacies in many third-world countries. In fact, it is difficult to find an insect that is not eaten in one form or another by people. In many parts of the world, people use insects as a major source of food including protein. By weight, termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, weevils, and house flies are better sources of protein than beef, chicken, pork or lamb. Further, insects are low in cholesterol and fat. And insects make our world much more interesting. Naturalists derive a great deal of satisfaction in watching ants work, bees pollinate, or dragonflies patrol.
In fact they are more beneficial to the planet than are humans. Of all the known life forms currently on Earth, more than half are insects and have been around since before the dinosaurs, and will very likely out survive us. Insects also serve as an important food source for other animals, such as fish and birds. Even larger animals such as coyotes and bears eat grasshoppers, and other insects, as a protein source. Many species of insects, especially fly maggots, and beetles, feed on dead animals and plant matter, breaking it down to make topsoil, a nutrient rich soil important for plant growth. Without topsoil many plant species would not have evolved. If insects do not help the decomposition of plant matter, the forest floor would be non-existent under years deep worth of plant litter. Nothing would be able to grow.
Insects also keep their own populations in check by eating each other. Ladybird beetle, and dragon fly, are often seen as beneficial to the gardener because they eat other insects and garden pests. By using these insects, rather than chemical pesticides we can keep our environment healthier.
Had insects not evolved when they did, we would not have the biodiversity which we have today. -Aniket Raja