Friday, March 5th, 2021...4:51 pm

The Importance of Insects

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By Amna Abu Askar

As we welcome warmer days and blooming flowers, we unfortunately welcome uninvited visitors home. BUGS!! With the approach of Spring, many hidden insects come out of their slumber in search of food. Insects typically enter our houses through cracks attempting to escape the cold wintery weather. They remain dormant inside walls and windowsills and when temperatures warm up again they become active in our homes as they try to make their way out. Swarming bugs in houses can be very annoying and unbearable for many of us. You might find yourself thinking, why do bugs exist, and why are there so many of them? 

Insects are amongst the most dominant and diverse life forms on the planet with a vast range of functional roles. It’s estimated that there are about 50 million species of insects, of which only 20% are described and named.1 Insects make up the majority of the terrestrial ecosystem and are arguably the most important group of terrestrial animals; so crucial that if they were all wiped out of the planet, humanity probably would not last for more than a few months. Our arthropod friends create the biological foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems; tundra, tropical rainforests, grasslands…etc. They cycle nutrients by consuming and recycling live plant material, and decomposing dead organisms. They also play a vital role in maintaining soil composition and fertility, seed dispersion, and plant pollination, with bees, moths and wasps being the top pollinators. 1  Soil insects are essential for litter breakdown and  returning nutrients to primary producers.

Although we have heard of pest infestations that have resulted in several agricultural losses, most of these insect pests are non-native species introduced into a new ecosystem without their natural biological control agents.1 Otherwise, ecological services by insect pollination are of great economic value in the fruit-growing and greenhouse industries, and in the growing of forage crops. In fact, 85% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects. Not only are insects great in agriculture, but they are also of great interest to biomechanical and bioengineering researchers, due to the unique features they possess. For example, insect cuticles known for strength and stiffness have inspired scientists to develop material with similar composition and strength.1  The manufactured material is called Shrilk, which is composed of fibroin protein and chitin extracted from exoskeletons.  

Insects are of great importance as a source of food for a diverse range of predators. Insects provide the major food supply of many amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. Mammals such as black bears in North America feed on ants in the spring as a source of protein and essential amino acids unavailable in other spring foods.1 In many regions of the world, insects serve as a supplementary human protein source.  Besides serving as food, insects produce byproducts such as honeydew and frass that provide and sustain other species.1  

Insects are of great importance because of their vast diversity, ecological role, influence on agriculture and crop growth. So before you grab that vacuum cleaner to suck them up, maybe show them the way out to their natural environment where they can flourish and nourish our ecosystem.  

1. Scudder GGE. The Importance of Insects. In: Insect Biodiversity. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2017:9-43. doi:10.1002/9781118945568.ch2

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