End of the humble insect?


Yesterday I saw something truly terrifying on the news about insects. The humble six legged friend, nuisance, pest in all its many forms is in mortal danger and we not so humble human beings are playing a leading role in insectageddon.

The implications of this for ecology, for the planet and for humans is difficult to over estimate. Insects perform so many tasks that we simply do not recognize or understand. No doubt in cruder conversations you have probably heard the phrase “eat crap”. Insects eat that so humans and other species do not have to.

It is funny and yet sad that on one hand we have figured out how to use weapons to annihilate the human population and an awful lot more within a matter of hours – my extremely crude estimate of how long W.W.3 would last once the missiles start getting airborne – yet so many simple yet fundamental to the existence of the ecological system are not understood. Or they are understood, but the supposedly smartest species on the planet elected to ignore that understanding. Whatever the case the consequences are alarming in a way that climate change, whilst disturbing simply does not match.

We wipe out billions of insects each year. We have pesticides to control aphids, and other damaging insects. We have fly spray that we use on flies, wasps and an encyclopaedia range of others around our homes. We have invested millions in ensuring that cars, houses and so forth are bug free, using a variety of methods – repellent devices that plug into a wall socket, insect spray, netting on windows to stop them getting into the house.

The mayfly that you see buzzing around the river as you fish is no threat. Indeed its presence is used as an indicator for a healthy aquatic ecosystem, as they are prey for fish, beetles and other predators. The humble housefly that we kill millions of each summer, annoying as it may be and often is, important for the break down of nutrients in the natural environment. The cockroach, loathed by many and in popular culture as a disgusting creature has been depicted as being able to survive a nuclear war, are resilient and have a higher tolerance of radiation than do human beings.

But what if all of this and so much more is wiped out by human activity? Where does that leave the ecological system, the environment, and most importantly for human beings, humanity? What if I told you that 100% of all insect life could be dead in 100 years?

Well, that is I heard yesterday.

Doomsday much?

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