Let's engage youth in the secret life of little critters and build habitats to co-exist with nature
Insects are ancient creatures. They are among the earliest groups of critters to make life on land and to occupy vast habitats on ground as well as in water. This dragonfly fossil is from Jurassic period when it shared the earth with dinosaurs. Moths appeared 130 million years ago while butterflies appeared 82 million years ago. By contrast, humans came into existence about 1 million years ago.
Kids mostly view insects as gross with a certain amount of fear factor around them. Yet, most of the material available in books or online is directed at older audiences. Let's break this stereotype and make kids excited about insects.
A Smithsonian Institute article estimates that there are "10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000 or a billion billion) insects at any time." Nature gifted them with unique adaptations like (A) Dual Locomotion with 2 pair of wings and 3 pair of legs to seek food, shelter, explore new places and escape from enemies; and (B) Great Defense mechanisms such as Beetles with hard front wings, known as elytra, to protect them from birds, presence of protective bright colors and defensive chemicals. e.g. Bees producing venom.
Then why save insects?
Because, of the 900,000 known species of insects (80% of all animal species) some like the Simandoa cave roach, which is considered as extinct in the wild, are so unique that they were found in a single cave system in Africa which was destroyed for mining. Similarly, the Palos Verdes blue is an endangered butterfly found only in the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Los Angeles making it one of the world's rarest butterflies.
The situation is becoming worst. Wild bumble bees across North America and Europe have declined by about 30% over a 25-year span. Frequent and more severe extreme heat events caused by climate change appear to be the main driver. Other factors like habitat loss and excessive use of pesticide are an important threat as well. Addressing climate change will be essential to stop the decline in insect population.
Separately, human waste from plastic pollution is everywhere and is affecting every animal big or small alike. For example, significant amount of micro-plastics has been found in the abdomen of a mosquito (see here). We need to study the effects of plastics on insects to understand how this may affect the entire food chain.
As they say, a few bad apples spoils the bunch. Harmful insects constitute only 2% - 3% of all insect species. Yet, they have led people to consider all insects as pests.
Change begins at home. Let's create awareness about these beautiful creations of nature and change people's perspective. The goal is to show case importance of insects in the food cycle, highlight at-risk population from loss of habitat and study the effects from global warming on local insect population.
Another approach is to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a technique that homeowners and schools can implement by focusing not on killing insects but really making the home and school environment less attractive to insects so that they go elsewhere. If the use of pesticides is essential, follow recommended guidelines (see sample Guideline1 and Guideline2).
Let's partner to make the world around us a better place.
Researchers from University of Sydney reviewed 73 studies across many European or American countries and found that many insect species are in decline across the world. Further, the study reported a 2.5% annual rate drop in biomass calculated across UK, Germany, Puerto Rico and Netherlands. At this rate, insects will disappear in a century. However, while most insects are declining in numbers a small proportion are increasing and will survive.