Many people fear insects, but those little critters are essential for life on Earth. Although they can be pests, insects perform valuable services, from pollinating the plants that supply our food to removing dead animal carcasses and waste. Yesterday, we looked at mosquitoes and ants. Today we consider the largest insect family – beetles.
We said that even though an estimated 20,000 ant species live almost everywhere on Earth, they are not the largest insect family. Beetle species make up more than one-third of the nearly one million scientifically identified species of insects worldwide. Here are some of the things we have written about beetles.
Someone said God must love beetles because He made so many of them. Although we might think that beetles such as stink bugs are ugly, many are known for their beauty. However, the most beautiful insects are the ones we will examine tomorrow.
The fear of insects is called entomophobia. It’s a phobia affecting nineteen million Americans, making it one of the top fears people have. The insects people most commonly fear are ants, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and even moths and butterflies. If I selected the insects I dislike the most, they would probably be mosquitoes – at least the female ones. However, we must realize that insects of all varieties are essential for human life, and even mosquitoes serve a useful purpose.
On this website, we have written about insects many times. Instead of having a fear of insects, we would do well to study and learn from them. The following links to some of the insect articles we have posted can help you see that our six-legged friends are fascinating. Let’s start with those dreaded mosquitoes.
Ants and mosquitoes live on every continent except Antarctica. Entomologists estimate there are 20,000 species of ants, but only 13,800 have so far been studied and classified. However, ants don’t hold the record for the largest number of insect species. That honor belongs to another insect family, which we will look at tomorrow.
Many years ago, while working in a teen camp in Alaska, I heard a skeptical teenager disparage God’s existence by saying that if God existed, He certainly wouldn’t have made mosquitoes. I have heard similar comments about ticks, hornets, lice, locusts, spiders, and stink bugs. I suspect we have all had times when we were unhappy with annoying bugs, yet when you examine the role of insects, you realize they are critical to our own existence. The well-known entomologist E. O. Wilson said, “If human beings disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on with little change, but if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt the human species could last more than a few months.” Why do we need insects?
Insects pollinate plants, aerate and fertilize the soil, decompose dung, and the bodies of things that have died. They control pests contributing 70 billion dollars every year to our national economy. Ninety-six percent of land-dwelling birds feed their young on insects, consuming approximately 400 to 500 million tons of insects. Most creatures in and around lakes and streams feed on insects, including fish and bears.
Why do we need insects? Humans are already seeing the cost of eradicating them. There are 68 species of bumblebees and roughly a fourth of those are in danger of becoming extinct. In Europe, the data shows a 76% drop in insects, including bees, beetles, lacewings, and katydids. The loss of pollinating insects has sharply affected the growing of many cash crops, and scientists are studying the effects of insecticide use.
Before we castigate God for what He has created, we need to be sure we have all the facts. We should learn what each creature does and how it contributes to our own well being. I dislike mosquitoes as much as the next person, but a majority of mosquitoes are pollinating insects. I am reactive to a bee sting, but bees contribute to much of what I eat. From our earliest existence, God has challenged us to take care of what He created. (See Genesis 2:15.) That includes caring for and protecting the agents that allow Earth to be hospitable to our existence.
Would you like to guess how many bugs are in your home? In the fall of 2017 researchers from the California Academy of Sciences published a survey of the bugs in 50 homes in and around Raleigh, North Carolina. The researchers took 10,000 samples from basements, bedrooms, kitchens, and attics. They identified 579 species from the 304 families of arthropods known to science. Arthropods include insects, mites and, spiders.
The researchers found ants, carpet beetles, gall midges, and cobweb spiders in 100% of the homes. In many of the houses, they found booklice, dark-winged fungus gnats, cellar spiders, scuttle flies, and dust mites. Misha Leong who was the lead author of the study says that most homes contain hundreds if not thousands of individual arthropods.
It is interesting that as people move toward buying organic and buying in bulk, they are increasing the bugs in their homes. Indian meal moths, for example, can contaminate oatmeal or chew through a sweater. They lay eggs in our food and closets, and the larvae chew through packaging leaving a mess of silk and frass (waste) behind. If we use the food quickly enough we eat the eggs, and since they don’t hurt us, we don’t even know they are there.
The reality is that we have and will always have lots of bugs in our homes. Many of them are beneficial to us. Booklice, for example, eat fungi and mold. Spiders eat insects and other harmful agents including flies and mosquitoes. Harmful spiders like the black widow and brown recluse are rare. Studies have also shown that many of our chronic diseases are related to our failure to be exposed to biological diversity. Leong says, “Rooms with more kinds of arthropods may be healthier rooms.”