By Jason Morrison
Once again it’s time for our friends to come along and join us for picnics, hikes in the woods, canoe trips, and backyard barbecues. I’m not talking about Ron your coworker or Chris your neighbor or even your brother Ted. I’m talking about our friends, the insects. Now I know some of you are thinking, “Each time I go outside the insects drive me crazy!” Well, even though this may be true, it is important to understand how these wonderful, six-legged beasties interact in this wild world.
Insects, even though many times they annoy or seem to try to hurt us, actually help us in more ways than any other type of creature in the world. They pollinate our plants and help to give us fruits, vegetables, honey, and many other sources of food. In some cases they help us control “pest” species of insects by predation, and they are commonly used by biologists to help control invasive plants like purple loosestrife. They are a source of food for many different mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and peoples of the world. In fact, the Native Americans of the plains states would harvest thousands of grasshoppers to consume. So just because a few make us uncomfortable, we shouldn’t let those give the others a bad name. And yes, they all do have a place in an ecosystem (even mosquitoes).
First of all, we need to know exactly what an insect is and is not. An insect has six legs, three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), and usually a pair of antenna. Most have wings, but not all. If a creepy crawly has more than six legs, less than three body parts, or more than one pair of antenna it is NOT an insect, period. Other close relatives are Arachnids (spiders, ticks, mites), Centipedes (one pair of legs per body segment), Millipedes (two pairs of legs per body segment), and Crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, pill bugs).
Next, we need to know the differences of some major families of insects. Listen closely: All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. There is one order of insects called Hemiptera. Those are the only true bugs. They include assassin bugs, stinkbugs, and box elder bugs. All other flies, bees, ants, etc., etc., etc. are NOT bugs. Each of these insects has their own family. Here is a list of common families you can find in and around your home:
- Coleoptera - beetles
- Diptera - flies/mosquitoes
- Isoptera - termites
- Homoptera - leaf hoppers
- Hymenoptera - bees/ants
- Lepidoptera - butterflies/moths
- Orthoptera - grasshoppers
- Odonata - dragonflies
Finally, just for more random information to pack into your mind (who knows, maybe one day you’ll need this for your appearance on Jeopardy), we currently have roughly 1,000,000 species of insects in the world. And entomologists (people who study insects) find new species constantly, especially in rain forests. Estimates by many scientists range from 1.25 million to 3 million total species in the world. Any way we look at it, insects by number and mass are a very important part of the natural world. It is prudent that we understand their total involvement in our daily lives so that we may appreciate them more. Until, next time - Buzz off!