The Importance of Insects

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For some people, like my grandmother, it would be welcome news to hear that pesky and irritating insects are declining. But this is actually happening, and it could be a catastrophic development.

In a simple and interesting way, Mark Kurlansky’s “Bugs in Danger: Our Vanishing Bees, Butterflies, and Beetles” reveals the serious impacts that humans are having on many species of insects, making it easy for younger readers to understand and grow more aware of the critical role that insects play in the Earth’s environment.

Kurlansky explains how insects have evolved to suit their habitats over millions of years, and why those insects are crucial to keeping their ecosystems together so that other organisms that inhabit them can thrive — and how the ecosystems are now quickly falling apart because of human disturbances.

Declining insect populations will cause other inhabitants of the ecosystem to begin to drop. This can result in overpopulation of certain species, depending on the circumstances, but once there aren’t enough plants or prey for that species to eat, its population will decrease as well.

Climate change is a major cause for the disappearance of many insect species, but pesticides and other chemicals play a large role as well. With bees, for example, DDT can wipe out entire colonies, including bees in hives.

Pesticides might also cause CCD, or colony collapse disorder, though the true cause of this has not yet been found. Other possible causes include increasing populations of parasites and insects that attack bees, genetically modified crops, or even bees growing disoriented from being constantly transported to different fields.

Surprisingly, CCD has not been observed in bees raised by organic beekeepers, who keep them in remote places and don’t use chemicals on or near the bees.

In addition to explaining why bees and other insects are disappearing, Kurlansky goes into detail about how diverse insects actually are, the jobs that they do in their communities, and why they’re important to the world’s ecosystems.

He also lists ways in which you can help protect bees and other insect populations in simple but effective ways, like planting gardens, avoiding light pollution or just leaving a bug alone if you see one instead of stepping on it.

This is certainly a very interesting and educational read for all ages, and is great for teaching kids that there is much more to an insect than yellow stripes or colorful wings.